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          Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Symptoms

          November 14, 2002

          Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a complex anxiety disorder that may develop after exposure to an extremely stressful or life-threatening event — involving death, the threat of death or serious injury — with resulting intense fear, helplessness or horror. If you experience these symptoms for a duration of more than a month, you could be suffering from PTSD. “This is not meant to be used to diagnose yourself, but rather raise your awareness of when you might need to reach out,” Dr. Phil says.


          Persistently Re-Experiencing the Event

          Having recurring dreams about the event or having persistent and distressing recollections of the event. Feeling and acting as if the trauma was reoccurring — hallucinations or flashbacks — and experiencing distress when exposed to cues. For example, Dr. Phil’s guest, Shelita, was attacked at gunpoint in her house, so when she is at home, she often replays the event in her mind.


          Avoiding Stimuli Associated with the Trauma

          Making efforts to avoid thoughts, conversations, people, places and activities associated with the trauma, and avoiding activities, places or people that arouse recollections of the trauma. Shelita makes every effort to avoid being inside her house. She often spends long periods of time at the mall and sits in her car outside her home so she doesn’t have to go inside.

          Numbing of General Responsiveness

          Pulling back and having a diminished interest in activities that are significant, and suffering low energy. Feeling detached or estranged from others. Displaying a restricted range of affect — unable to have loving feelings, or don’t want to become excited and happy or let scared emotions out.

          Increased Arousal Symptoms Not Present before the Trauma

          Being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Developing a heightened irritability and/or having angry outbursts. Becoming hypervigilant — behaviors you did not experience before the event.

          Disturbance Impairs other Areas of Functioning

          Experiencing significant impairment in social or occupational activities or any other important areas of functioning. Shelita has a difficult time working, because loud noises easily startle her.


          Other Possible Symptoms

          Inability to recall important aspects of the trauma

          Sleep difficulty

          Irritability or anger

          Feeling hopeless

          Sense of foreshortened future

          Excessive drug and/or alcohol use

          If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, don’t let it drain your life energy. Seek help from a medical professional.

          For more information about PTSD, visit:



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