The psychology of post-traumatic stress disorder – Joelle Rabow Maletis


Many of us will experience some kind
of trauma during our lifetime. Sometimes, we escape
with no long-term effects. But for millions of us,
those experiences linger, causing symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, and negative thoughts
that interfere with everyday life. This phenomenon,
called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, isn’t a personal failing; rather, it’s a treatable malfunction
of certain biological mechanisms that allow us to cope
with dangerous experiences. To understand PTSD, we first need to understand how the brain
processes a wide range of ordeals, including the death of a loved one, domestic violence, injury or illness, abuse, rape, war, car accidents, and natural disasters. These events can bring on feelings
of danger and helplessness, which activate the brain’s alarm system, known as
the “fight-flight-freeze” response. When this alarm sounds, the hypothalamic, pituitary,
and adrenal systems, known as the HPA axis, work together to send signals
to the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the network that communicates
with adrenal glands and internal organs to help regulate functions like
heart rate, digestion, and respiration. These signals start a chemical cascade that floods the body with several
different stress hormones, causing physiological changes
that prepare the body to defend itself. Our heart rate speeds up, breathing quickens, and muscles tense. Even after a crisis is over, escalated levels of stress hormones
may last for days, contributing to jittery feelings, nightmares, and other symptoms. For most people, these experiences
disappear within a few days to two weeks as their hormone levels stabilize. But a small percentage of those
who experience trauma have persistent problems —sometimes vanishing temporarily
only to resurface months later. We don’t completely understand
what’s happening in the brain, but one theory is that
the stress hormone cortisol may be continuously activating
the “fight-flight-freeze” response while reducing overall brain functioning,
leading to a number of negative symptoms. These symptoms often fall
into four categories: intrusive thoughts,
like dreams and flashbacks, avoiding reminders of the trauma, negative thoughts and feelings,
like fear, anger, and guilt, and “reactive” symptoms like irritability
and difficulty sleeping. Not everyone has all these symptoms, or experiences them to the same extent
and intensity. When problems last more than a month,
PTSD is often diagnosed. Genetics, on-going overwhelming stress, and many risk factors
like preexisting mental illnesses or lack of emotional support, likely play a role in determining
who will experience PTSD. But the underlying cause
is still a medical mystery. A major challenge of coping
with PTSD is sensitivity to triggers, physical and emotional stimuli that the brain associates
with the original trauma. These can be everyday sensations
that aren’t inherently dangerous but prompt powerful physical
and emotional reactions. For example, the smell of a campfire could evoke the memory of being trapped
in a burning house. For someone with PTSD, that memory activates the same
neurochemical cascade as the original event. That then stirs up the same feelings
of panic and helplessness as if they’re experiencing
the trauma all over again. Trying to avoid these triggers,
which are sometimes unpredictable, can lead to isolation. That can leave people feeling invalidated, ignored, or misunderstood, like a pause button has been
pushed on their lives while the rest of the world
continues around them. But, there are options. If you think you might
be suffering from PTSD, the first step is an evaluation
with a mental health professional who can direct you towards
the many resources available. Psychotherapy can
be very effective for PTSD, helping patients better
understand their triggers. And certain medications
can make symptoms more manageable, as can self- care practices,
like mindfulness and regular exercise. What if you notice signs of PTSD
in a friend or family member? Social support, acceptance, and
empathy are key to helping and recovery. Let them know you believe their
account of what they’re experiencing, and that you don’t blame them
for their reactions. If they’re open to it, encourage them to seek evaluation
and treatment. PTSD has been called “the hidden wound” because it comes
without outward physical signs. But even if it’s an invisible disorder,
it doesn’t have to be a silent one.

About the author

Comments

  1. Hi everyone, it looks like we made a mistake. Our apologies! Please note that the fight-or-flight response is characteristic of the sympathetic, not the parasympathetic functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Thanks to those of you who also flagged the error. We're working on updating the video.

  2. I remember a few years after the christchurch earthquake (and the thousands of aftershocks) I would totally avoid high places, packed areas such as malls, elevators etc. And I remember when I was just starting high school my English class had a weird floor where, if someone that was fairly big were to walk around the class you could feel it and it'd feel like just when an earthquake would start, that kind of 'jolty' feeling and it'd instantly remind me of an earthquake and stir up my heart rate and everything. I eventually managed to get over it at around 2016 or 2017 after the Kaikoura earthquake because for some reason my mind just switched from being scared of them to just treating it as a roller coaster ride.

  3. Whenever I suffer from formal traumatic moment which I had been experidnced before under constraint, I do my best to forget all about it. Unfortunately Still I'm in it yet, Somehow it's blurred lately.

  4. The animation is just like i don’t but it look like made. Was an artist with ptsd because man …… although idont know what i have till now general anxiety , ptsd ,or phone addiction or depression hhaa im tired ….:////

  5. Its better to practically implement phycology with out having any study and proving its thesis without any human help….
    Reading before u completed ur work dear one…

  6. What happens to someone with PTSD if they just keep sitting through whatever cue that triggers their PTSD? For example you get triggered by campfire and instead of avoiding it you just sit by the campfire till your PTSD no longer triggers from it.

  7. Ptsd, first we go for the alcohol, hookers and drug, then with the stds, bad liver and kidneys, then suicide.

  8. "when problems last more than a month, PTSD is often diagnosed"

    It's been 12 years since my father's death in a plane accident and I finally went to a psychiatrist last November.

  9. I think this is why the humor I enjoy ever since I was 13 was so aggressive and mean spirited, Im trying to laugh at something else's expense because deep down I know if I were to take pride in myself, someone else, if they really wanted to would mock me and I know I'd lose the favor of the crowd almost immediately because I have flaws they would undoubtedly point out and theres no question or escaping their communities of only hip, polished, public confident heirarchies that assume my ears are microphones to an invisbile tv show.

  10. That’s exactly what it feels like. My life is on pause. I have everything I need to thrive but cannot focus energy on any more than the bare minimum to survive.

  11. Really. Trauma is a mystery? The cause, trauma is a mystery? Or is paying the cost and how to do that because the hypocratic oath requires treating people in pain. And it is expensive to admit you understand the cause as a medical provider. How to pay for that, is the mystery. And it'a mysterious how you will pay for it since the patient usually can't afford treatment to actually cure it.

    Years of therapy, expensive medications and surgerys. Soooo much of a mystery. We couldn't possibly ever figure out how to treat that (on the patients dime, screw us paying for it, we aren't a bank account).

    Yep Guys. Kids with bee alergies. That's $600 an epipen. Yet a mystery of how we will treat this mysterious alergy. How will these kids get jobs to afford all their medications with such child labor laws causing their medical situations?

    Adhd? Yep, sorry. Blues clues mystery. If you can't afford the $300 a week ritilin and have a case of ptsd or neuropathy with that. It's gonna take sherlock holmes to help either you discover where you're going to find the 6 extra jobs to pay for your treatment, or one of those guys who interrogated Rambo to get medical professionals to admit it should be on their dime or the health insurances.

    Man, we need dr.who on this case working with Rick Sanchez to cure this, otherwise your treatment being affordable only exists in another reality.

  12. 1:14 Wrong. If parasympathetic fires off stress hormones, what does the sympathetic system do?
    Ted-MisEducate.

  13. I suffer from severe Ptsd and depression. I have for the past 10 years. I have no hope at all and every day just wish I was dead. But I’m not giving up and I hope you don’t either.

  14. I get nightmares as a symptom of my PTSD and my favorite artist (Cavetown) has a song called "Talk to Me" that has a super relatable lyric in it:

    "Anxiety, tossing turning in your sleep
    Even if you run away, you still see them in your dreams"

    So yeah. Check him out, he has really helped me through some stuff.

  15. This video doesn't mention exposure therapy. I do this because talking does not help everyone because being forced to talk with someone when you are not ready, can cause further issues with not being in control of when and who to discuss your story and feelings with.

  16. I don’t understand when people say it is treatable. Because so far there has not been a treatment out there that works. Even calming symptoms are extremely difficult to treat.

  17. love this can relate fully to it all lived with this for many years undiagnosed by psychiatric services had many labels given to me but now no my main problem was chronic PTSD due to a traumatic domestic violence relationship the brain is a remarkable part of the human body and what it controls very insightful vid !

  18. It is bad… really bad
    For the one suffering from it and even more for the ones around.

    Laying in bed and hearing your father screaming and seeing him shake while sleeping just because he is fighting the war he fought 20 years ago again and again in his head..

    Seeing the trenches, the blood hearing the gunshots and screams of the loved ones he lost in this war again and again. Every night. Over and over again.

    And you, Can't do anything about it. You can tell him that the war is over and he is laying in his bed and he is safe but that does not help… The Fear, the horror and the guilt remains. It goes so far that people like that end up depressed, abusing Alcohol and drugs and eventually even committing suicide…

    Besides Schizophrenia it is the most difficult and complex mental disorder and we know so little about it.
    It is sad and scary… It is a real torture.

  19. i could get out of my ptsd if i could get to 5'9 ' the average men size' but its holding me back …' people judge me on that , always '

  20. Try this cyberspot to overcome trauma memories and PTSD symptoms
    https://youtu.be/qojI2CD9F6U
    Khereddin Ennouri, Ph.D Neuroscience

  21. Video: if a trauma last over a month..it can cause a long lasting ptsd.
    Me: i am living in this traumatic environment for last 17yrs of my life.

  22. I always feel so guilty for having PTSD when I have the luxury of living in the Western World but then I would never think less of anyone else dealing with it.

  23. I think I have ptsd. When I was little my dad used to shout at us a lot and often he would hit us. Shouting causes me to flash back to the times i was hit and start crying and I feel a burning desire to run and run and run. I often get shouted at at school too which is awful. The boys in my class laugh and none of the teachers understand how I feel. They just get more annoyed when I don't answer because I'm just frozen with fear. I don't want to struggle alone but it's so hard when you're being ignored…

  24. How can I get help when there's barely any Therapist who have undergone my type of trauma. USMC 0311 IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN? Cant trust anyone.

  25. can you have PTSD from a simple thing like being left alone with 2 strangers at a gas station as your mother is taken to jail? when i was 10 i went with my mother to get a friend and his girlfriend,my mother was drinking and driving but as a little kid i did'nt understand that was wrong, but sometime on our way home she got into a minor hit and run car accident and drove off,15 minutes later the police found her and took her into custody ,which left me alone, anxious and scared with 2 strangers i didn't know, but later that night my sister came with my grandfather and took me home, to this day (5 years later) i have nightmares and tinny flashbacks to it. and when their is a police officer next to us or behind us on the road i start to have an anxiety attack with crying and rapid breathing…..is this something i should check out with my doctor? or am i worrying over nothing?

  26. I had very bad anxiety (don't know whether it was PTSD) from the first use of cannabis. I was in my room when it happened and I remember the smell of a soap coming from the bathroom. That smell made me so scared and anxious every time I smelled it. This lasted for a few months! Thank God I got help and I'm almost well now.

  27. Is it possible for lifeguards to get diagnosed with PTSD? Like say after helping someone who was having epileptic seizures in the pool?

  28. I doubt its ptsd but sometimes when im alone abd thinking about stuff, i remember bad things abd just cry about it

    Now that i put it into words it sounds like it but its not too bad

    Id like to forget it though

  29. It's such a disaster going through something so horrible and then they have to go through it again and again in loops. When people throw these words casually around during conversation I guess that really overshadows people who are actually dealing with it. People who are quiet, who carry tears in their eyes and try to fight all the hallucinations their brain is creating. And I hope people didn't share their story in the comments. No hatred. Some of it could potentially be triggers for others. It was for me. Take care you guys!

  30. Thank you Youtube for recommending for me this video almost 4 months after finishing my paper for college about PTSD in children of war 🙂

  31. When you have PTSDT for a long time, you'll think it's a part of your life, a part of you, something that will never disappear and it is something that allows brings you down when you're having a happy time. PTSD to me now is not just simply a "trauma" , it's a part of me, i think about that thing everyday, I've never had one day without thinking about it, PTSD to me now is just like eating, drinking, sleeping, i cannot avoid ,i cannot choose to not think about it , I don't know when will i ever forget about that pain. 

    When pain cannot end, live with it. I'm living with it because trying to forget about that pain is actually more painful than "pain" itself.
    I'm happy sometimes, i'm an ordinary person with an ordinary life, some friends think that i'm just sometimes depressed , but they never understood me , never.

    When something is repeatedly done e.g sleeping, eating , it becomes a habit, PTSD is like this, that's why for us it's never possible to end , because starting from the first day of having it , it just keeps reminding us every single day , we never have one day of not thinking about it , IT IS HARD TO CURE because it slowly turned into a habit, and you know habit cannot be changed easily. 

    It's like a endless loop … and the only way to end it is to end life. But i would not end my life because of PTSD because now it's a part of me, it is me.

  32. I have PTSD, it makes me have disturbing flashbacks and i daily suffer from negative thoughts making my life quality worsened. I also was born with ADHD and because of traumatic experiences by bad people i also developed psychosis and schizophrenia and lastly panic anxiety.

  33. My partner died. She was my world ever since I've had PTSD. And everything in this video is correct. It is horrible what loss and trauma does to the mind.

  34. My coping with ptsd is to give it second thought, sometimes i allow myself to do things differently until i am ready but always give it a second thought. I dont believe medication can help it will make it worse, try to normalize urself and positive reinforcement. The saying 'be careful how speak to urself' inpires me, change that voice gradually u can "heal"

  35. I have PTSD. I endured 5 years old physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse. I use to have two triggers that caused me to shutdown. One was quick hand movements and physical contact (it’s no longer a trigger). The other is aggressive yelling, I was screamed and yelled before I was abused.

  36. Maybe PTSD is mechanism of one identifying certain event/word or any triggers as "dangerous or poisonous", PTSD then kicks in letting them avoid these triggers

  37. You may like to watch our new movie about a former soldier suffering from ptsd.

    Here you can find my movie PILGRIM:
    https://youtu.be/5CRhaR6zklU

  38. I was diagnosed only last year with CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) after my parents denied for years the abuse and neglect they subjected me to. I’m still in the middle of a family court case where me and my siblings are being fought over between my parents and the authorities.

    My type of PTSD is much deeper and typically occurs due to recurring traumas spanning over a long period of time, for me it was years. Now although I try my hardest to live a happy life the abuse I suffered has undoubtedly buried itself deep within my personality and behaviours, even how I perceive the world. It’s really hard sometimes and few people understand or acknowledge my struggles but I hope with time the scars of my childhood won’t be so deep.

  39. My dad accidentally triggered my aunt’s PTSD from being on the field with grilled squid (apparently the smell of grilled squid is very close to burning human flesh) and a snare drummer in marching band accidentally gave me a panic attack by hitting the drum too hard too close to me. I don’t know whether mine is PTSD or not, but I consistently fall into panic attacks when extremely loud booms occur.

  40. Did the animation really need this grainy effect? It's easier to follow along if I'm in another tab and just listening, that's how distracting and annoying I find it.

  41. Also, doing art with your loved one while they are going to therapy might help. People have been looking into whether or not art helps out and so far it looks like it does. There is a TED-Talk on this, though I don't remember the title.

  42. I woke up in the middle of the night because of some nightmares but when I rethink what that nightmare was about all I could see is maths and school works

  43. If you have PTSD make sure you correct muscular imbalances before you exercise

    It is important to stretch and do yoga
    But also to correct weaknesses in the body and maintain good posture

    If not the HPA axis response will worsen with tension
    The tension also makes it uncomfortable to get sleep which only raises your cortisol
    And makes you miss out on the benefits of deep sleep

    The physical affects and mental effects will work in a cycle of exacerbation the longer you allow it to persist

  44. I started crying after watching this because for so long, i didn’t know what this feeling was and now I do. I got into a car accident about 2 years ago and have been struggling with the fear of driving ever since, but this makes me feel like i’m not alone

  45. I think I may have PTSD, tomorrow I'm going to uhhhh the person who studies your brain lmao, since I had childhood trauma because my whole family except my grandpa who died when I was 6 of cancer, neglected me emotionally, I remember staying in the middle of the class literally like a statue, kids would often find me weird and ignore me as well (I was in 3-4th grade) I also remember staying alone not making friends and always crying a lot. I never told my mom this because I thought it was a normal thing till I was 11 and when I started crying out for help everybody would find me annoying, say mean words to me or things like YOU ARE SO GREEDY, YOU SHOULD JUST BE STRONGER. I swear to god NOBODY said hey you need help or even tried to understand me… people who give me emotional support is like rare to me. I'm mad at this world but I'm also wondering why…nobody helped me… why in the stories where people never tell anybody then they get told "you should've just told us" and everything ends happy…why can't that happen to me If I'm screaming out loud for help? I just feel like I'm in a constant loop of sadness, I feel trapped in that moment (I won't tell you what moment, it's too hard), why can't I be happy, it feels like I can't trust nobody, I always feel like I annoy people when I talk about my problems, is feeling pain bad?

  46. I got c-ptsd do to physical verbal emotional abuse neglect abandonment mom dad divorcing our family dog for 10 years dying my grandmother dying my mom getting sick my dad getting sick being bullied and humiliated at school witnessing domestic emotional and physical domestic violence between my mom and dad me dealing with developmental emotional and physical disabilitys dealing with with bullying at work family conflict cyberbullying and etc etc

  47. Can someone tell me if PTSD is a result of only physical injury and extremely bad events or can it be because of a succession of negative verbally abusive events over a prolonged period of time

  48. For months I’ve been ashamed to admit it, but the training I received to enter the armed forces gave me symptoms similar to PSTD.
    I’m not going to say I have full blown PSTD, but I do have symptoms such as reoccurring flashbacks and the stress that goes along with it.

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