How does traumatic stress affect the body?

People with post-traumatic stress disorder may also experience physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension, nausea, joint pain, headaches, back pain, or other types of pain. The person in pain may not be aware of the connection between their pain and a traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a frightening event that is experienced or witnessed. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and intense anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Provide information about the experience of triggers and flashbacks, and then normalize these events as common traumatic stress reactions. Certain characteristics make people more susceptible to PTSD, such as a person's unique personal vulnerabilities at the time of traumatic exposure, the support (or lack of support) they receive from others at the time of trauma and at the onset of trauma-related symptoms, and the way in which other people in the person's environment assess the nature of the traumatic event (Brewin, Andrews, & Valentine, 2000). The main presentation of a person with an acute stress reaction is usually that of someone who seems overwhelmed by the traumatic experience. The following examples reflect some of the types of cognitive or thought process changes that can occur in response to traumatic stress.

While stress mobilizes a person's physical and psychological resources to perform more effectively in combat, reactions to stress can persist long after the real danger has passed. A prospective longitudinal study (Malta, Levitt, Martin, Davis, & Cloitre, 200) that followed the development of PTSD in disaster workers highlighted the importance of understanding and appreciating sleepiness as a traumatic stress reaction. Sleep disorders are more persistent among people who experience trauma-related stress; sometimes, the disorders remain resistant to intervention long after other symptoms of traumatic stress have been successfully treated. This chapter begins with an overview of common responses, emphasizing that traumatic stress reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.

In fact, a past mistake in the psychology of traumatic stress, particularly with regard to group or mass trauma, was to assume that all survivors need to express the emotions associated with trauma and talk about trauma; more recent research indicates that survivors who choose not to process their trauma are as psychologically healthy as those who do. The following sections provide a brief overview of some mental disorders that may result from (or be worsened by) traumatic stress. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD place a lot of emphasis on psychological symptoms, but some people who have experienced traumatic stress may initially have physical symptoms. Trauma-based care (TIC) involves a broad understanding of reactions to traumatic stress and common responses to trauma.

Because numbing symptoms emotionally mask what's going on inside, family members, counselors, and other behavioral health personnel tend to evaluate levels of traumatic stress symptoms and the impact of trauma as less severe than they actually are. Somatic symptoms are more likely to occur in people who have traumatic stress reactions, including PTSD. Alcohol and drug use may be, for some, an effort to manage traumatic stress and specific symptoms of PTSD. .