3 PTSD signs you may not have heard about
By: Skylar Nagy, LCPC
In honor of PTSD awareness month, I thought it might be helpful to do a closer examination of some of the less discussed signs and symptoms of PTSD. The phrase “that ___ gave me PTSD!” is thrown around a lot in popular culture and in our daily lives, which can sometimes create confusion and misinformation about what PTSD actually looks like for those suffering from it. Most people are familiar with symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks, so it may be helpful to learn about some of the other symptoms that could go more easily unnoticed in ourselves or someone we love.
Hypervigilance – This may be a term that you have heard before and, on the surface, it is pretty self-explanatory in that it means being extra cautious and aware of one’s surroundings. On a deeper level, though, this can mean feeling like your brain, and particularly your body, don’t ever really “turn off” or relax in the way that may have been easier prior to a traumatic event. It can feel like a constant sense of restlessness, never feeling quite at ease, or always braced for something but not really knowing exactly what it is you should be prepared for. It is the body’s way of saying – “hey, we were caught off guard and unprepared that one time and something awful happened, so we are never going to let that happen again!”. It can mean that you never really feel like you’re 100% concentrating on someone who is talking to you or on a task that used to be easy or enjoyable because you’re always subconsciously scanning for the next horrible thing to happen.
Irritability – Though this is an emotion all of us feel on a regular basis, as a symptom of PTSD, irritability can feel like a constant state of being. Similar to the state of hypervigilance, there is almost always a sense of extra energy or adrenaline going through the body that makes it hard to calm ourselves down and tune out insignificant sensory information. Because we are using such a large amount of energy scanning our surroundings for danger (hypervigilance), that leaves little energy leftover for coping with small irritations that we otherwise wouldn’t be bothered by. For example, while I may have never even noticed my spouses’ chewing noises while they eat before, now it is so loud in my head that it feels unbearable – so I lash out at them to stop just so I can get a break from the noise. This constant irritability and excess energy can lead to angry outbursts, aggression, and reckless or impulsive behavior.
Extreme thinking – We all have a tendency to think in black-and-white terms at times, but a traumatic experience can leave us living in a more constant state of understanding and categorizing things in an all-or-nothing way. For instance, if a friend cancels plans at the last minute, you may conclude that it’s because they no longer care about you and you should cut them out of your life, as opposed to recognizing that they might have just been busy or distracted that day. Another common belief is that the world is not a safe place or that you are a flawed or broken person in comparison to others. These thoughts may feel very real and very true but are actually an unhelpful result of the impact of trauma on our brains and can be destructive if left unchecked.
If you feel like these signs sound or feel familiar to you or someone you care about, it may be helpful to meet with a professional to see if you may be experiencing PTSD, or another disorder such as anxiety or depression, which shares some of the same symptoms as PTSD. There are many effective treatments for PTSD that can help relieve symptoms. If you would like to learn more or feel that you would benefit from talking to someone about your symptoms, please feel free to contact us at ICC to get set up with an appointment. Thanks for reading!