Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by a wide range of traumatic events, including domestic violence, natural disasters, accidents, and more.
Of the 50 percent of people who experience trauma at least once throughout their lifetime, approximately 8 percent of survivors will develop chronic and severe symptoms of PTSD. Research also indicates women are twice as likely to develop PTSD and experience symptoms longer.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the common symptoms of PTSD in women. If you believe you’re experiencing any of these symptoms of PTSD and regularly turn to alcohol or other substances to self-medicate uncomfortable feelings, consider exploring the benefits of trauma therapy today.
What is PTSD?
In order to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD, there is a prerequisite of experiencing a traumatic event. In the past, this definition of trauma referred specifically to exposure to a situation in which there was a direct risk of literally losing one’s life.
Over time, it became apparent that trauma can exist in many forms. Not only can people be traumatized by an experience of dying, themselves, but they can also be traumatized by witnessing the death and physical suffering of others. Experiences such as rape, assault, and being held hostage are also extremely traumatizing.
As of today, it is still a requirement of diagnosis of PTSD that the event is experienced in-person. Viewing negative events on the television or the internet does not qualify as vicarious trauma.
It has also been realized that people vary greatly in their subjective experiences of events. While one person may be able to process an event and move past it, another person may have been more deeply affected and less able to cope with the same event. This seems to be particularly true when it comes to the trauma response of females.
When being assessed for trauma, a mental health practitioner will spend time understanding what the event or experience means for each, individual, woman. The experience of ongoing trauma is a subjective experience.
Symptoms of PTSD in Women
Whether it be due to biological or cultural factors, or a combination thereof, women experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at a much higher rate than do men. To make matters worse, many women do not even recognize that it is trauma at the root of their mental health problems.
The female tendency to internalize experiences, and the default setting of seeking to blame the self before looking elsewhere, can be a hindrance to accurately identifying the problem.
Here are several common symptoms of PTSD in women.
When a person has been traumatized, the brain goes into a state of high alert. All mental resources are diverted to attempting to figure out the situation and alleviate the danger. After the traumatic event has passed, the brain is supposed to go back to its normal, daily, activity.
In the case of PTSD, the brain is having a hard time doing that. Instead of being able to move steadily away from thoughts of the event, a woman with lingering trauma will find that thoughts of the ordeal will shove their way, uninvited, into any manner of situation.
A routine trip to the grocery store can be interrupted with thoughts of being attacked, or a romantic night out can be ruined by the sudden recollection of the past. Intrusive thoughts are also known as having flashbacks.
As further evidence that the brain and body have not finished dealing with the trauma, a person with PTSD experiences an exaggerated startle response.
The startle response is present with us from the time we are born, as evidenced by a newborn flailing the arms if experiencing a swift lowering in the hands of a playful parent. This automatic response is yet another survival mechanism that our system has designed for getting us out of danger, and quickly.
For a woman with PTSD, this mechanism is on a hair-trigger. A sudden loud noise or an unexpected appearance from another person can reactivate physical memories of the trauma, resulting in the sufferer jumping out of her skin at the drop of a hat.
When we don’t know which direction the danger may come from, we tend to stay on high alert.
A woman with PTSD feels as though danger may be lurking around every corner, and will try to anticipate any unexpected events that she may encounter during the day. This can involve researching venues before venturing out of the house in order to extensively plan an escape route.
This can also mean scanning the faces of every person encountered in the store, and making an extra effort to keep a physical distance from strangers.
In spite of being hypervigilant – and also due to it – a woman suffering from PTSD is prone to experience panic attacks.
During a panic attack, the entire bodily system goes into overdrive, as it becomes fully convinced that death is around the corner. There will be trembling, sweating, and increased heart rate.
The mind will go blank, and higher cognitive functioning will shut down. A woman experiencing a panic attack may even faint.
It is no fun being on edge, constantly, and it is definitely no fun trying to anticipate when flashbacks or a panic attack are going to pop up and ruin the day.
Crowds of people, small spaces, and the presence of strangers may be particularly unnerving. Rather than risk the mental, physical, and emotional toll that comes with experiencing such high anxiety in social situations, a woman with PTSD may begin to withdraw from engaging in all but the safest of activities.
Beginning to avoid scenarios that may activate the flight-or-fight response may make the day times a little easier to bear, but the saga will continue while in bed at night.
Women with PTSD often experience intense, frightening, nightmares. These bad dreams may replay the actual event or may be composed of random scenarios in which the dreamer is placed in a position of having to figure out how to stay alive during any number of situations. There may also be persistent bad dreams about losing a loved one.
Depression and Irritation
With all of this stress going on during both waking – and sleeping – hours, it is little surprise that a woman with PTSD won’t be at her best.
Devoting so much energy to trying to convince yourself that you are not going to die leaves little energy for daily functioning. A woman with PTSD will likely find that she has little patience for the relatively trivial needs of others, and may find that the persistent drain of energy results in a constant state of the doldrums.
Before seeking a diagnosis of depression or anger issues, make sure to tell your mental health therapist about any traumatic events you have experienced.
Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. While there are many common symptoms of PTSD in women, the symptoms will vary from individual to individual. For this reason, we recommend reaching out to a mental health professional for guidance.
A professional will have the knowledge and experience needed to understand your individual situation and provide the guidance needed to start the healing process.
If you find yourself turning to alcohol or prescription drugs to self-medicate symptoms of PTSD, you may be interested in co-occurring disorder treatment. Explore the benefits of sustainable recovery here at Villa Kali Ma and discover the helpful inspiration needed to journey forward on your path to healing the mind, body, and spirit.