Content Warning: This article mentions trauma-related topics which could potentially be triggering.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that often occurs in people who have witnessed or experienced trauma or a life-threatening event. This disorder appears in the DSM-5 (or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).
According to the National Center for PTSD, 6% of US adults will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops post-traumatic stress disorder. However, for those with symptoms, the effects may feel debilitating and affect daily life, which may cause other mental health problems.
Anyone of any gender can have PTSD, and those assigned females at birth may find specific symptoms of PTSD to be heightened based on societal gender roles, a lack of support, or common types of traumas inflicted upon them. These traumas can lead to various issues, such as substance abuse, alcohol abuse, or family members being affected.
PTSD In Women
PTSD can impact anyone of any gender, as any human can experience trauma. While people of all genders may report similar symptoms of PTSD, some symptoms are more common among women than in other genders. Women are two to three times more likely to develop PTSD than men.
For example, women may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety symptoms with PTSD. Studies show that women may be more likely to experience repeated traumas throughout life, increasing sensitivity to severe PTSD symptoms in future traumas.
Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of PTSD that may affect women. Although sleep concerns are a general PTSD symptom, they may be heightened in women due to elevated levels of anxiety or repeated traumas.
In addition, women tend to cope with emotions and seek comfort, while men usually focus on solving problems. Women often rely on social support, and its absence can lead to negative outcomes after trauma. For example, women may find talking with friends or joining support groups helpful.
Some women experience suicidal thoughts or behaviors related to PTSD. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free and available 24/7.
What Causes PTSD?
Exposure to any trauma is a factor that could lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Experiencing trauma does not mean one is guaranteed to develop PTSD, though. Two people can experience the same trauma, and only one of them may develop PTSD after. Researchers believe that genetics and other risk factors play a role in why this happens.
You may hear about PTSD in the media regarding war veterans. Although war can be a cause of PTSD, it isn’t the only cause. It is one of the lesser causes of PTSD in women. According to studies, there are fewer women with war-related trauma than women with other types of trauma. The leading cause of trauma in those assigned females at birth is sexual trauma, such as assault.
You can find statistics about PTSD on the Veterans Affairs website. It may be most helpful if you are a veteran or active military soldier. Veterans can contact the Veterans Crisis Line for 24/7 help at 1-800-273-8255.
Some of the most common events that may lead to PTSD include the following:
- Childhood abuse and neglect
- Domestic violence
- Witnessing or experiencing natural disasters (e.g., tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes)
- Combat exposure
- Sexual assault, harassment, or coercion
- Physical attacks or threats with weapons
- Death-related trauma (e.g., sudden or violent death, severe injury of a loved one)
- Loss of significant relationships (e.g., family member's death, traumatic breakup)
- Car accidents and other civilian incidents
- Repeated traumatic events
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for support and resources.
Is There A Relationship Between PTSD And Eating Disorders?
The National Eating Disorders Association reports that PTSD can be a co-occurring condition with eating disorders. People with PTSD and eating disorders may use unhealthy eating habits as a way to cope with distressing symptoms and emotions linked to their traumatic experiences. It is important for individuals facing these challenges to seek professional help, as addressing both PTSD and the eating disorder simultaneously can lead to more effective recovery and improved well-being.
Risk Factors For PTSD In Women
Some researchers believe genetics can play a part in an individual’s ability to overcome trauma. For example, the American Psychiatric Association reports that women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.
For some, trauma may not have as deep of an impact. For others, it may be more challenging to recover after an event. For this reason, the severity of someone’s PTSD symptoms does not necessarily indicate the severity of the trauma. One person who experienced lifelong trauma and another who underwent a single traumatic event may develop the same symptoms.
Other risk factors for PTSD may include:
- Exposure to previous traumas (especially in the first nine years of life)
- Family history of anxiety and depressive disorders
- Pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
- Repeated experiences of severe or life-threatening trauma
- A history of sexual assault
- An injury or severe reaction at the time of the traumatic event
- Additional stressful events after a traumatic event
- Lack of a social support system
Signs And Symptoms Of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD may start a few weeks or more than a month after a traumatic event occurs. Some symptoms may not appear until a few years after an event has passed.
PTSD symptoms are grouped into four main categories, including avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, intrusive memories, and changes in emotional and physical reactions.
Someone experiencing an avoidant symptom may try to avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic event they experienced. They may avoid people, places, and activities that remind them of the experience. This avoidance may look like avoiding social events, staying home as much as possible, or avoiding closed-off areas.
Negative Thoughts And Mood
In individuals with PTSD, common aspects of their experience may include mood symptoms and negative changes in thinking. These symptoms may include:
- Developing a negative self-perception
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- A lack of positive emotions
- Feeling detached from your social circle
- Emotional numbness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with memory (potentially regarding key aspects of the traumatic event)
- Feeling “out of your body” or “spacing out”
Unwanted, recurrent, or distressing memories of a traumatic event may be referred to as intrusive memories. Common symptoms of intrusive memories can include:
- Severe emotional distress
- Negative thoughts
- Distressing physical symptoms and reactions to trauma triggers (things that remind you of the traumatic event/s)
Changes In Physical And Emotional Reactions
Changes in physical and emotional reactions may also be referred to as arousal symptoms. Arousal symptoms may include:
- Feeling “on guard” for danger
- Outbursts of anger or aggression
- Feeling an overwhelming sense of shame or guilt
- Experiencing emotional numbing (trouble feeling emotions)
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Physical health concerns, such as altered sleep patterns, weight loss/gain, or muscle and joint pain
- Difficulty with intimacy
PTSD Diagnosis in Women
A mental health professional such as a counselor or psychiatrist may be able to diagnose PTSD. Some symptoms of co-occurring disorders may mimic the symptoms, so a psychoanalysis test might help you understand your symptoms more clearly. An earlier diagnosis may be beneficial. Studies indicate that early intervention for PTSD can aid in treatment.
Treatment Options For PTSD
PTSD is treatable. Short-term and long-term therapy or medications may help alleviate the symptoms while you learn to apply effective coping mechanisms.
Several treatment options exist for those experiencing PTSD or distressing symptoms after a traumatic event. Studies show that PTSD treatment methods, such as EMDR, are effective when implemented correctly. An effective treatment plan for PTSD can help individuals regain interest in everyday activities and manage their mental health condition.
Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavior therapy that focuses on reducing the emotional and physical distress one feels when confronted with a situation, distressing thought, or memory. There are several types of exposure therapy, and a psychologist can help determine which is best for you.
Stress Inoculation Training
Stress inoculation training is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on changing how you deal with the stress related to a traumatic event. It may involve learning to relax and reduce stress using muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises.
These therapy sessions may be aimed at helping clients learn the necessary skills to help defend themselves against troubling or negative thoughts and reactions related to their trauma/s.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a type of therapy that targets the neurotransmitters in the brain. EMDR uses a patient’s rapid eye movement to aid in processing memories of past traumatic events with less distress or heavy impact.
Some people with PTSD process perceived threats differently than those without the condition. Their “fight or flight” response may be quickly triggered by stimuli that remind them of a traumatic moment or time in their life.
The “fight or flight” response can stay active for long periods, causing a constant state of hypervigilance. Hypervigilance may lead to emotional shutdown and physical illnesses. Some people prefer prescription medication as a treatment option in these cases.
Because everyone responds differently to medications, not everyone with PTSD will respond similarly to all medicines. Some common medications used for PTSD are antidepressants, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse in PTSD
People with PTSD often experience intense feelings related to their past traumas. Sometimes, they may turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with these difficult emotions. However, using substances to numb their pain usually makes things worse and can make recovery more challenging. Women with a history of PTSD are 2.5 times more likely to experience alcohol abuse or dependency compared to those who have never had PTSD.
Spotting the signs early can help a person get the right help and treatment more quickly. Talking to a doctor, therapist, or other trained mental healthcare professional may be the right step in getting the proper diagnosis and setting up a plan for recovery, which might include therapy or medication.
Managing alcohol and drug abuse is sometimes a key part of treating PTSD. By including substance abuse treatment in the overall recovery plan, people with PTSD have a better chance of overcoming their struggles and getting back on track. Seeking professional help can teach them how to manage their symptoms and take control of their lives again.
Reaching Out For Help
If you have PTSD or experience distressing symptoms after a traumatic event, consider reaching out to your primary care physician or mental health care provider. When you experience trauma, professional support can be a valuable tool in recovery.
Local health units and mental health centers may be able to provide mental healthcare. If you want to talk to someone but feel uncomfortable with an in-person meeting, online counseling options are an effective and affordable way to get professional support. Studies indicate that online CBT is highly effective in treating prolonged exposure to stress.
Sites such as BetterHelp allow users to connect with various professionals in different areas of expertise. Whatever option you choose, you are not alone. You are worth the time and effort it takes to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
Below are some counselor reviews from users who have recently reached out for help online.
“I have been speaking with Kevin for over a year and in that time, I have recovered from my depression, CPTSD, BPD, alcoholism, anxiety, and many other mental health issues. I felt comfortable opening up to him and he was very positive and supportive through my journey. I highly recommend him as a quality therapist. Thank you, Kevin.”
“Lori has changed my life for the better. She has given me the tools and confidence to properly cope with my anxiety, depression and past traumas. She is a GREAT listener and always empowers me to help myself. Lori has taught me to put myself first. I’m so thankful she is my therapist.”
PTSD may feel overwhelming and isolating. Whether you choose to talk to a local mental health practitioner or find support online, you are not alone. If you’re ready to take the first step, consider speaking with a licensed trauma counselor.
What are signs of PTSD in women?
PTSD symptoms in women may vary from those found in men. Women may be more easily startled, experience higher levels of depression or anxiety, have trouble feeling emotions, and avoid trauma reminders. For women, PTSD may also take longer to be detected, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, taking an average of four years to diagnose in women compared with only one year in men.
While women may experience PTSD differently, like men, they also experience changes in physical or emotional reactions, avoidance behaviors, and intrusive memories. It has also been estimated that women experience PTSD more often than men as men are diagnosed at about half to one-third as often as women.
What is PTSD in women's terms?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can affect anyone, including women. In women's terms, PTSD can be described as a reaction to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that was very distressing or frightening. This can include things like civilian accidents, violence, violent crimes, abuse, or other events that threaten safety or well-being. When someone has PTSD, after the traumatic event happened, their mind and body might continue to react as if the trauma is happening again, even when it's over.
Women with PTSD might have flashbacks or nightmares that make them feel like they're reliving the traumatic event. They might also feel constantly on edge, anxious, or even emotionally numb. Certain things that remind them of the trauma can make them feel scared or overwhelmed. It's important to know that PTSD is a real condition, and seeking help from mental health professionals can provide strategies to manage these symptoms and work towards healing and well-being.
What are the 17 symptoms of PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can manifest in a variety of symptoms that affect different aspects of a person's life. Here are 17 common symptoms associated with PTSD:
- Intrusive Thoughts: Recurrent, distressing thoughts, memories, or images of the traumatic event.
- Nightmares: Repeated, distressing dreams related to the trauma.
- Flashbacks: Feeling as if you're reliving the traumatic event, often with vivid sensory details.
- Avoidance: Trying to avoid reminders of the trauma, which might include places, people, or activities.
- Emotional Numbing: Feeling emotionally disconnected, distant, or numb from others.
- Avoiding Emotions: Trying to avoid feelings related to the trauma by keeping busy or not talking about it.
- Negative Mood: Persistent feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or shame.
- Memory Problems: Difficulty recalling specific details of the trauma or other aspects of life.
- Difficulty Sleeping: Insomnia, nightmares, or disrupted sleep patterns.
- Irritability: Feeling easily agitated, angry, or having outbursts.
- Hyperarousal: Being constantly on edge, easily startled, or having a heightened startle response.
- Exaggerated Startle Response: Reacting strongly to sudden noises or movements.
- Hypervigilance: Being overly alert to potential threats or danger in your surroundings.
- Physical Symptoms: Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, or rapid heartbeat.
- Loss of Interest: Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Feeling Detached: Feeling emotionally disconnected from others or as if the world isn't real.
- Negative Beliefs: Holding negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world.
Everyone experiences PTSD differently, and not everyone with PTSD will have all of these symptoms. The severity and combination of symptoms can vary widely and individuals may experience PTSD alongside anxiety disorders, depression, or other mental health conditions.
How do I know if I've got PTSD?
If you suspect that you might have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it's important to seek guidance from a qualified mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis. However, here are some signs and indicators that could suggest the presence of PTSD:
- Experiencing or Witnessing Trauma: You've been exposed to a traumatic event such as an accident, violence, abuse, natural disaster, life-threatening trauma, sudden death of a loved one, or neglect.
- Re-Experiencing Symptoms: Intrusive thoughts, memories, or flashbacks of the traumatic event.Distressing nightmares related to the trauma.Feeling as if you're reliving the traumatic experience.
- Avoidance and Numbing: Avoiding places, people, or activities that remind you of the trauma. Feeling emotionally numb, disconnected, or detached from others.
- Hyperarousal and Reactivity: Being easily startled or having a heightened startle response. Experiencing difficulty sleeping or having irritability and outbursts of anger.
- Negative Changes in Mood and Thoughts: Persistent negative emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, or shame.Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.Negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world.
- Duration of Symptoms: Symptoms persist for more than one month and significantly interfere with your daily life and functioning.
- Impact on Functioning: The symptoms are causing distress and impairment in various areas of your life, such as work, relationships, and social activities.
- Distress and Impairment: You find it challenging to cope with your emotions and reactions related to the trauma, affecting your overall well-being.
PTSD is a serious illness and it's important to remember that only a qualified mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis of PTSD. If you resonate with these symptoms and suspect you might have PTSD, seeking help from a mental health provider is recommended. They can conduct a comprehensive assessment, offer an accurate diagnosis, and develop a tailored treatment plan to support your healing and recovery.
What triggers PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be triggered by various factors that remind individuals of the traumatic event they experienced or witnessed. Triggers are stimuli that evoke strong emotional or physical reactions and can lead to the re-experiencing of trauma. Common triggers for PTSD include:
- Anniversary Reactions: Certain dates or times of the year that are associated with the traumatic event can trigger heightened emotions and memories.
- Similar Situations: Being in situations or environments that resemble the place or circumstances of the trauma can trigger anxiety and distress.
- People: Seeing someone who reminds the individual of the traumatic event, or encountering people who were involved in the event, can trigger strong reactions.
- Sounds: Loud noises or sudden sounds that resemble those present during the trauma can trigger feelings of fear or distress. This may be especially true for military service members, according to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs.
- Visual Cues: Seeing something that resembles elements of the trauma, even indirectly, can trigger memories or distress.
- Smells: Certain odors that were present during the trauma can trigger emotional reactions.
- Physical Sensations: Physical sensations, such as touch or temperature, that were present during the traumatic event can evoke memories and anxiety.
- Emotional States: Experiencing emotions similar to those felt during the trauma, even if unrelated to the current situation, can trigger distress.
- News or Media: News stories or media content that remind the individual of the traumatic event can trigger distress.
- Conflict or Confrontation: Situations involving conflict or confrontation can trigger feelings of anxiety and distress, especially if they resemble aspects of the traumatic event.
Triggers can be highly individual and vary from person to person. Not everyone with PTSD will be triggered by the same stimuli, and not all triggers will have the same intensity. Therapy and coping strategies can help individuals learn how to manage and reduce the impact of triggers on their daily life.
How does a person with PTSD behave?
A person with PTSD might display a range of behaviors as they cope with the effects of their trauma. They may experience intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks related to the traumatic event, causing them to seem emotionally distant at times as they struggle to manage their intense emotions. Avoidance behaviors could be evident, as they might go to great lengths to avoid people, places, or situations that trigger memories of the trauma, which can lead to social isolation. They may be on high alert, easily startled, and prone to sudden emotional outbursts or irritability due to their heightened state of arousal. Changes in sleep patterns and concentration difficulties might also be noticeable, contributing to a sense of restlessness and frustration.
In contrast, some individuals may become emotionally numb and disengaged from activities they once enjoyed, as they attempt to shield themselves from overwhelming emotions. They may also exhibit hypervigilance, constantly scanning their surroundings for potential threats. Such behaviors could impact their daily routines and relationships, causing them to struggle with work, social interactions, and maintaining a sense of normalcy.
When does PTSD usually start?
When a person experiences or witness a traumatic event they are at risk of developing PTSD afterward. For many people who experience or witness trauma, the feeling of emotional shock is fairly immediate and may last for weeks. However, if the feeling of trauma, difficulty coping, and the manifestation of other symptoms continue for months or even years it is possible that the individual may be experiencing PTSD.
There is no set timeline for PTSD symptoms to appear, if you believe that you have PTSD or if you have experienced a traumatic even, it may be beneficial to see a mental health professional.
How can PTSD be treated?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be effectively treated through various therapeutic approaches and interventions. It's important to work with mental health professionals to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on your individual needs. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), some common treatments for PTSD include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used talk therapy for PTSD. It helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs related to the trauma. Prolonged exposure therapy, a specific form of CBT, involves gradually facing and processing trauma-related memories and triggers to reduce their emotional impact.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT is a structured and evidence-based therapy designed to help individuals with PTSD understand and process their traumatic experiences in a new way. CPT focuses on identifying and challenging negative beliefs and thought patterns that have developed as a result of the trauma. Through structured sessions, individuals learn to recognize and reevaluate these distorted thoughts, replacing them with more balanced and realistic ones.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a therapeutic technique that combines exposure to trauma memories with guided eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. This process aims to help individuals process traumatic memories and reduce their emotional distress.
- Group Therapy: Participating in group therapy sessions with others who have experienced trauma can provide a sense of connection, validation, and support. Group therapy often focuses on talking about experiences, learning coping skills, and building resilience.
- Medication: Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be prescribed to manage symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and mood disturbances associated with PTSD.
- Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help regulate stress and anxiety.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT incorporates mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness skills to manage intense emotions and improve interpersonal relationships.
- Supportive Psychotherapy: Individual therapy focused on building a strong therapeutic relationship can provide a safe space to discuss trauma, emotions, and develop coping strategies.
- Physical Activity: Engaging in regular physical exercise can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and help manage PTSD symptoms.
- Art or Expressive Therapies: Creative outlets such as art, music, or writing can help individuals process their emotions and trauma in a nonverbal way.
- Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle with proper sleep, a balanced diet, and stress reduction techniques can contribute to overall well-being.
- Trauma-Informed Yoga: Yoga specifically designed to address trauma can help individuals reconnect with their bodies and alleviate symptoms.
- Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms like anxiety, depression, or insomnia.
Recovery from PTSD is a gradual process, and treatment approaches may vary based on individual preferences and needs. A combination of therapies and strategies can provide the best outcomes. Working with mental health professionals who specialize in trauma can help tailor a treatment plan to your specific situation and help you on your journey to healing.
Does PTSD ever go away?
PTSD can improve significantly with treatment and support, and some individuals may experience a reduction in symptoms to the point where they no longer meet the criteria for diagnosis. However, for many people, certain triggers or stressors might still occasionally elicit some symptoms. Full remission can vary from person to person and depends on factors such as the severity of the trauma, the effectiveness of treatment, individual resilience, and the presence of other mental health conditions. While the complete resolution of all symptoms might not always be possible, many individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives through therapy, coping strategies, and support networks.
- Previous Article
- Next Article