Normally, our minds and bodies can deal with whatever stressors we encounter – intense meetings, crises, illness, and more. Our in-built fight-or-flight response to potentially dangerous situations allows us to cope under stress and respond to perceived and real threats. The situations we encounter can be traumatic, meaning that they involve the actual or threat of death, violence, or severe injury.
Our fight-or-flight response kicks in and helps us to respond to these situations. While initially shocking, we eventually recover from that shock and can function well as before. Sometimes, however, the shock induced by the stressful/traumatic event can be so overwhelming that it can disrupt a person’s ability to function in their relationships or at work.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that sets in after a person experiences, witnesses, or is threatened with a traumatic event. If they have repeatedly experienced traumatic events/situations such as severe abuse, violence, or neglect, a doctor may diagnose them with Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD has symptoms akin to PTSD, though it can be more severe if the trauma was experienced early in that person’s life.
One of the challenges of PTSD is that it can set in unpredictably. It can, for instance, set in soon after the inciting event, or long afterward when it is triggered by something else.Some people experience PTSD after a traumatic event while others do not, and it is not entirely clear why this is the case.
Not only can PTSD set in due to experiencing a traumatic event, but it’s important to understand that trauma can occur even if someone wasn’t directly involved in the event. As such,trauma and PTSD can occur if you know of someone close to you who experienced or was threatened by the event, or you’ve been exposed to images or graphic details about the traumatic event.
PTSD can last for months or years after the traumatic event, and it affects a person’s fight-or-flight mechanism by changing how their body responds to stress and stressful situations. PTSD can trigger intense physical and emotional responses to thoughts or memories of the event, and they feel as though they are reliving the event. PTSD can cause that fight-or-flight mechanism to be triggered by benign everyday situations, like when a car backfires and their body responds as though they are caught in a firefight.