What is PTSD?

When a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, their brain enters what is called survival mode. In order to help them survive, their brain will switch off certain parts and turn on others, such as heightening senses and creating more adrenaline. The brain shuts down non-essential functions and focuses all its efforts on pure survival. Usually, after the stressor is over, the brain can once again continue all other functions. However, some people may get stuck in survival mode, which is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Often when we hear someone mention the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short, our first thoughts might be to immediately think of veterans returning from war. There’s a good reason for this – this is the example that is usually the most identifiable and also the one most commonly seen in movies and media. In fact, before 1980, doctors thought only war vets could get PTSD. As we now know, that is not true, and anyone who experiences a traumatic incident can develop PTSD.

There is also another type of PTSD called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or CPTSD. CPTSD can happen when a person endures a traumatic event that lasts for a period of time or a traumatic series of connected events. This could include living with an abuser for an extended amount of time, or even experiencing a series of natural disasters such as the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and its following tsunami and reactor meltdowns.

PTSD and CPTSD are not to be confused with Acute Stress Disorder. Acute Stress Disorder is the name for symptoms that appear immediately after the trauma, which is an extremely normal response. In order for ASD to then become PTSD, the symptoms must last longer than one month.


Symptoms of PTSD will differ from person to person, and it is rare for one person to experience the entire range of symptoms.

The most well-known symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, as well as panic or anxiety attacks. However, there are many more. Other common symptoms of PTSD include but are not limited to memory problems, feeling isolated or a negative demeanor, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, emotional regulation issues, experiencing physical symptoms such as dizziness or nausea, paranoia or a heightened sense of awareness, or dissociation (experiencing a disconnect from reality or one’s body).

PTSD symptoms can sometimes look different in children than adults. Children who are experiencing PTSD might become more fidgety, develop separation anxiety from a caregiver, revert back to younger age behaviors such as bedwetting or thumb sucking, have difficulty following orders, or experience physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches.

People who are experiencing PTSD or have gone through traumatic events may also be at a higher risk for illnesses. While your body is busy fighting to survive the external situations, it can fail to notice such things as infections or viruses before getting sick. Stress is another culprit, as our bodies were not made to withstand constant extreme amounts of stress. When these amounts do appear, they can cause the body to react in random ways.


While being diagnosed with PTSD may be scary, there is help available. There are many different types of medication and therapies a person can try. Usually, treatment has the best success rate when combined.

One of the most common therapies used to treat PTSD is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This therapy is done by focusing on the memory while simultaneously concentrating on another stimulus, usually repeated eye movements or sometimes soft tapping on a client’s knees. This treatment is often regarded as being extremely successful and helpful for most people, with a treatment success rate of 80-90%.

Four of the most common medications to help PTSD symptoms are sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine and venlafaxine – all Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, more commonly known as Antidepressants.

These are only some of the more common treatment options for people with PTSD. There are many more others to choose from so that everyone can find a treatment plan that works best for them and their lifestyle. If you might be suffering from PTSD as a result of the trauma of domestic violence, call our Outreach office to discuss what treatment options are available to you: 214.389.7700.

Written by Mallory Skinner, childcare coordinator at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.