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  • What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe emotional reaction to a traumatic event. This reaction is characterized by three major symptom categories:

  1. Re-experiencing -- a feeling that the trauma is happening again and again, accompanied by frequent nightmares and troubling memories related to the trauma.
  2. Avoidance -- a strong impulse to avoid anything that has to do with the traumatic experience.
  3. Hyper-arousal -- constant feelings of alertness, nervousness and difficulty concentrating. This situation typically causes sleep disorders and difficulty falling asleep.

These symptoms create difficulty in everyday functioning, and seriously interfere with the routine of the trauma survivor and those around him. However, these symptoms are entirely normal in the period immediately after the traumatic event. They usually diminish gradually during the weeks and months following the event. A person is defined as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder if he fulfills several of the symptom categories (as defined by the DSM-Diagnostic Statistical Manual) several weeks after the trauma and if the symptoms, rather than diminishing, grow stronger with time. 

  • When is the reaction to trauma normal, and when is it a disorder?

In the weeks and months after a traumatic event most people experience feelings of fear, oppressive memories, unpleasant physical sensations, sleep disorders and more. This situation is normal, and in most cases disappears without professional help. However, if the situation continues beyond several weeks and even gets worse, it is recommended to seek professional help. The main criteria for the decision to seek help are the level of disruption of everyday life and the amount of distress the trauma survivor experiences. In any situation in which a person feels that the disorder is disrupting his life and prevents him from functioning normally, we recommend turning to professional help. 

  • Who gets PTSD? Can anyone have the disorder?

Research shows that the main factors, which determine if a person will suffer from post-traumatic disorder, are: the kind of trauma experienced, its acuteness, length of exposure time, and the former personal history of the trauma survivor.
These findings suggest that in fact anyone can develop this kind of disorder, if he is exposed to acute trauma. Nevertheless, there are several specific factors that affect the development of PTSD including a person’s mental preparedness for the specific trauma, the amount of control he experienced during the traumatic event, previous emotional problems and the amount of environmental support he receives after the trauma. 

  • How can I cope with PTSD?

The symptoms that are experienced immediately after exposure to trauma generally diminish in the weeks following the event. One of the important factors in helping trauma survivors during the weeks following the traumatic event is the support of friends and family. There are several things the trauma survivor can to do to help himself as well. These include getting enough sleep, maintaining a daily routine, sharing thoughts and feelings with loved ones and more. In addition practicing relaxation exercises can be very helpful during the recovery phase. In case the symptoms do not diminish in several weeks, treatment by professional therapists who have been specially trained is in order. Once the post-traumatic disorder has been established, it does not tend to "disappear" or "get better" on its own. 

  • Are there treatments available for PTSD?

There are several different treatments available for PTSD that have been proven effective. These treatments can significantly improve the quality of life for those that suffer from posttraumatic symptoms. The therapy, generally provided by a licensed psychologist or social worker, includes stabilizing the survivor, processing the traumatic experience, and focusing on return to normal functioning. Because of the gravity of the disorder and the effectiveness of the treatment, it is important not to delay treatment, and when the need arises to seek professional help as soon as possible. 

  • Are there medicines that can treat PTSD?

There are several medicines that are effective in the treatment of specific symptoms of the disorder, such as lack of sleep, panic or anxiety. However, there is no one medicine that effectively deals with the whole range of symptoms. For this reason, medicines can ease the coping during the psychological treatment, but cannot replace psychological treatment. 

  • What can I do to help myself?

To bring your life back on course and prevent the situation from getting worse, here are a few steps you can take in the hours and days after the trauma, which may make things easier:

  • Share your feelings with people you care about -- talking with friends and family members will help you relieve some of the emotional load that weighs on you.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle -- especially in such troubling times, it is very easy to neglect our health. Our health influences our mental state, which is why it is important in times like these to eat healthy food, engage in physical exercise and add fun activities to our day. Also, relaxation exercises can be helpful.
  • Find sources of support and comfort -- many people draw comfort and encouragement from religious frameworks, others from community organizations. In some communities there are support groups for people who have been through similar traumas. These various frameworks allow us to begin to understand and find significance in our experiences as well as strengthen us.
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