According to NHS, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 1 in 3 individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. Any situation that a person finds traumatic can cause PTSD, although it’s unclear why some people struggle with PTSD while others do not. In this blog post, we’re exploring some of the lesser-known symptoms of PTSD along with potential treatment options.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a clinically recognised disorder that is directly related to the experience of exceptionally dangerous, horrifying, or life-threatening events. This experience of trauma is most often associated with severe abuse or combat-related experiences. However, trauma can be experienced in many ways and forms. PTSD can result from trauma experienced by:
- Directly experiencing a traumatic event
- Witnessing a traumatic event that impacted others
- Learning that a close loved one suffered a trauma
- Repeated exposure to aversive details of the event
- A combination of these
PTSD is characterised by a range of symptoms that can affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. These symptoms typically start within a few months of the traumatic event, but they can sometimes appear much later. The symptoms are usually grouped into four main categories:
- Intrusive Thoughts and Memories: Individuals with PTSD often experience unwanted and distressing memories of the traumatic event. These can come in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts. They may feel like they are reliving the event, even when they’re safe.
- Avoidance and Numbing: People with PTSD often go to great lengths to avoid situations, people, places, or activities that remind them of the traumatic event. They might also feel emotionally numb, detached, or disconnected from others, leading to a reduced range of emotions.
- Negative Changes in Thoughts and Mood: This category includes feelings of guilt, shame, anger, or persistent negative beliefs about oneself or the world. Individuals might experience difficulty remembering aspects of the traumatic event, have distorted thoughts about blame, or struggle with hopelessness.
- Hyperarousal: People with PTSD may be easily startled, have trouble sleeping, experience irritability or anger outbursts, and have difficulty concentrating. They might also feel a constant sense of heightened alertness and struggle to relax.
It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. The development of PTSD can depend on various factors, such as the severity of the trauma, a person’s resilience, their support systems, and previous experiences with trauma or mental health conditions.
Lesser-Known PTSD Symptoms
While many people are familiar with the more common symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and heightened anxiety, several lesser-known symptoms can also significantly impact an individual’s well-being. Let’s explore these lesser-known symptoms, shedding light on their nature, potential causes, and implications for individuals struggling with PTSD.
Sensory overload, which involves feeling overwhelmed by various sensory inputs, is also associated with PTSD. Individuals may experience difficulties filtering out irrelevant stimuli, leading to increased stress and anxiety.
Hyperacusis, a heightened sensitivity to sound, is a lesser-known symptom that can affect individuals with PTSD. Everyday sounds that might be tolerable to others can become overwhelming and distressing to those experiencing hyperacusis. This symptom can exacerbate feelings of hypervigilance and trigger a stress response.
Dissociation and Depersonalisation
Dissociation refers to a disconnection between thoughts, feelings, and sensations, leading to a sense of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings. Depersonalisation, a specific form of dissociation, involves feeling as though one’s body or experiences are not genuine or are detached from oneself. These experiences can be distressing and contribute to a sense of unreality, making it difficult for individuals to engage fully in their day-to-day lives. Dissociation and depersonalisation often serve as coping mechanisms in response to overwhelming trauma, but they can persist and interfere with normal functioning.
Somatic symptoms are physical manifestations of psychological distress. Individuals with PTSD may experience various somatic symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic pain. These symptoms can be perplexing, as they often lack a clear medical explanation. The connection between psychological trauma and physical symptoms is complex and may involve dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system, the body’s stress response, and changes in the brain’s pain processing centres.
Sensory distortions involve changes in perception that can affect how individuals experience their environment. For instance, altered taste or smell perception, visual disturbances, and changes in tactile sensations are sensory distortions that can occur in individuals with PTSD. These distortions are believed to result from the brain’s attempt to process and make sense of traumatic experiences, leading to disruptions in sensory processing.
People with PTSD may take extraordinary steps to mask their symptoms and inner turmoil. They often experience intense symptoms and emotions. What they are experiencing may be pretty troubling, yet they may fear judgment from others. They may worry that disclosure could jeopardise their employment or their relationships. They may fear being labelled or deemed “mentally unfit” or even “dangerous”. As a result, they will often become isolated and aloof. They will actively avoid people, places, and things that may trigger them or risk having others see their distress.
Impaired Emotional Regulation
While emotional dysregulation is recognised as a hallmark of PTSD, lesser-known aspects of this symptom include emotional numbing and emotional flooding. Emotional numbing refers to a diminished ability to feel positive emotions or a reduced capacity to experience pleasure. On the other hand, emotional flooding involves intense and overwhelming emotional responses that are difficult to manage. These emotional extremes can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships and contribute to isolation.
Disturbed Sleep Patterns
While nightmares are a more well-known symptom of PTSD, other sleep disturbances can also occur. Individuals may experience insomnia, fragmented sleep, and night sweats. These disturbances can further exacerbate feelings of fatigue, irritability, and cognitive difficulties. The intricate relationship between sleep and PTSD is thought to be related to the brain’s attempt to process traumatic memories during sleep cycles.
Changes in Substance Use
Using substances to cope is often seen in people with PTSD. The effects of substance use can mask or dampen the impact of symptoms. It can be difficult for others to see or understand what the person is experiencing. What looks like a substance abuse problem on the surface may actually be an attempt to alleviate their trauma symptoms by self-medicating.
Cognitive distortions involve distorted thought patterns that can perpetuate negative emotions and behaviours. These lesser-known symptoms of PTSD can include excessive self-blame, negative self-appraisal, and pervasive feelings of guilt. Individuals may also struggle with memory gaps or distortions related to the traumatic event. These cognitive distortions can undermine an individual’s sense of self-worth and contribute to a cycle of negative thinking.
What can complicate matters even further is that symptoms don’t always immediately follow the traumatic event. In some cases, it can be months or years before symptoms emerge or rise to a level requiring attention. The person, and even those around them, may not put 2+2 together. What might look like depression or anxiety, for example, might actually be telltale signs that someone is experiencing traumatic distress.
Hypervigilance to Threat
Hypervigilance, or an exaggerated sense of alertness to potential threats, is often discussed in relation to PTSD. However, lesser-known aspects of this symptom include a heightened startle response and difficulties distinguishing between real threats and non-threatening situations. This constant state of readiness can be mentally and physically exhausting, contributing to heightened anxiety and stress levels.
Treatment for PTSD often involves a combination of psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or exposure therapy) and, in some cases, medication. Therapy helps individuals process the traumatic experience, learn coping strategies, and gradually reduce the impact of the symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it’s recommended to seek professional help from mental health professionals who are experienced in treating trauma-related conditions.
Ketamine has gained attention recently for its potential therapeutic effects while treating PTSD. When combined with trauma therapy, ketamine-assisted therapy shows promise in healing and promoting positive treatment outcomes:
- Ketamine potentially helps “reset” PTSD patterns, allowing individuals to process their experiences and learn healthy coping strategies.
- Ketamine may help someone temporarily detach from overwhelming emotions, creating an opportunity for trauma-focused therapy and allowing them to explore traumatic memories in a safe environment.
- Ketamine-assisted therapy may increase insight into traumatic experiences and associated emotions. This enhanced self-awareness allows individuals to better understand their trauma response patterns and work towards healing.
- Trauma often leads individuals to engage in avoidance behaviours as a coping mechanism; Ketamine can allow individuals to confront and process their trauma in therapy more directly.
It’s easy to see why ketamine has become a valuable tool for treating mental health disorders, but it’s important to note that ketamine alone is not a cure. Providers often combine ketamine-assisted therapy with other evidence-based approaches to improve the likelihood of success.
Ketamine is most commonly delivered in a higher dose using a nasal spray, nebuliser, IV, pill, or transdermal patch. At APN London, each client’s ketamine dosage is catered to their individual needs by their supervising doctor. The goal of ketamine therapy is to help relieve trauma symptoms and quickly get to the root of a client’s mental health issue.
Healing With Trauma Therapy
Trauma doesn’t have to hold someone back forever. If a person has faced significant traumatic events or repetitive minor traumas, their past may frequently affect their present. Trauma therapy at All Points North London can help manage symptoms, reprocess the past and reclaim lives. Trauma therapy can help fix patterns of thoughts and behaviours that seem impossible, whether from childhood or recent experiences. APN London offers in-person therapy, outpatient group therapy, and support groups, in addition to other forms of support, like ketamine-assisted therapy, to help you heal from trauma and stress.
These lesser-known symptoms can be equally debilitating and challenging to manage, often impacting various aspects of an individual’s life. Raising awareness of these symptoms can promote a more comprehensive understanding of PTSD and provide better support and resources for individuals struggling with this complex mental health condition. To take the next step in finding freedom from your trauma, call 0203 984 7699 or fill out our confidential contact form.