Experiencing a traumatic event does not mean you or your loved one will go on to develop PTSD.
Fear and anxiety are common reactions during and immediately after a traumatic event. Fear is actually adaptive in these moments, helping the body to defend against danger or avoid it, known as the “fight-or-flight” response. These innate and adaptive responses help to protect us from harm by flooding our body with the stress hormones we need to respond appropriately. Over time, when the body realizes its safe again, those stress hormones will stop pumping through your body and you’ll begin to feel the symptoms dissipate gradually.
Those who continue to experience those symptoms long after the traumatic event has passed may go on to be diagnosed with PTSD. People with PTSD generally feel those same feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety even when they are no longer in danger.
Fortunately, only approximately 7 to 8% of people will experience PTSD in their lives. Considering most of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime, these rates are very low.
There are a large number of factors that play a role in whether or not someone may fall into that category and go on to develop PTSD. The National Institute of Mental Health has identified a number of factors that might make someone at greater risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event:
• Living through dangerous events and traumas
• Getting hurt during the event
• Seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body
• Childhood trauma
• Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear during the event
• Having little or no social support after the event
• Dealing with additional stress after the event (e.g., pain, injury, loss of loved one, job loss)
• Having a past history of mental illness or substance abuse
But there is hope! The National Institute of Mental Health also recognizes a number of important factors that may reduce the risk of going on to develop PTSD following a traumatic event:
• Seeking out and utilizing social support from friends and family
• Participating in a support group after a traumatic event
• Learning to feel positive about your actions during the traumatic event in the fact of danger
• Having a positive coping strategy (i.e., a healthy way of getting through the bad event and learning from it)
• Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
Fortunately, many of the factors that reduce the risk of developing PTSD are things that can be accomplished with the support of a therapist early on after experiencing a traumatic event. Perhaps the greatest two predictors of health after a trauma are good social support systems and maintaining a hopeful, positive outlook.
If you’re struggling after experiencing a traumatic event, there is hope! Treatment with an effective trauma therapist involves education about symptoms, teaching skills that identify the triggers of symptoms, and learning skills to manage and reduce symptoms. Get started on your path to restored health today!