Post-traumatic Stress Reactions

Understanding post-traumatic stress reactions can help you reach out to survivors of trauma.

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) reactions are normal reactions to a traumatic incident, and they usually diminish and disappear within a few weeks. Most people who have been exposed to a traumatic incident — such as a road traffic accident, work-related accident, physical assault or mass disaster — experience post-traumatic stress reactions.

Common Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Reactions

Some reactions that can occur after traumatic events include:
  • Upsetting thoughts, memories, or dreams about the event
  • Acting or feeling as though the event was happening again
  • Feeling upset by reminders of the event 
  • Bodily reactions — such as fast heartbeat, churning stomach, sweatiness, dizziness — when reminded of the event
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Heightened awareness of potential dangers to yourself and others 
  • Being unusually jumpy or getting startled easily at something unexpected

Support for Someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Reactions

The post-traumatic stress sufferer may be reluctant to seek professional help, but this could be beneficial, and the doctor may recommend speaking to a trauma counsellor for support.

Post-traumatic stress reactions can have a negative impact on emotional health.

Caregivers and loved ones of an individual who has experienced a traumatic event can play an important role in the recovery process, as they are in a position to recognise post-traumatic stress reactions early and provide the necessary support. Studies have shown that early intervention following a traumatic event can help reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Be patient and provide reassurance when caring for someone with post-traumatic stress reactions.

Although post-traumatic stress reactions can be distressing, some individuals have experienced positive psychological changes, including having a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in life. Researchers have a growing interest in this area of post-traumatic growth. These distressing reactions and positive changes can collaboratively aid in one’s recovery after a traumatic event.

What to Do if Post-Traumatic Stress Reactions Don’t Taper Off

While post-traumatic stress reactions usually taper off within a few weeks of the traumatic incident, some people may continue to experience post-traumatic stress reactions, and these can worsen over time. Specifically, the emotional reactions can become so intense that they impair the person’s functioning.

Therefore, if a person continues to experience post-traumatic stress reactions for more than a month, it is recommended that he/she should consult the family doctor or seek psychiatric help as he/she may be at high risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Counsellors and other mental health professionals may also assist the affected person by making appropriate referrals to a psychiatrist if the post-traumatic stress reactions persist and medication is needed. Psychological medicine services are available in most hospitals.

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