Key Takeaways

  • PTSD is a result of trauma that affects a person’s mental health long after the traumatic experience occurred.
  • There are many different factors that influence each person’s experience of living with PTSD. What’s most important is finding the support you need to manage your symptoms.
  • The first step in healing from PTSD is meeting with a mental health professional who can provide a diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

One of the most confusing aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the many varying factors that shape how, why, and for how long symptoms take hold. So if you’re wondering how long your PTSD will last, know that you’re not alone. And with the right support, you can find relief. While each person will have their own unique experience of PTSD, there are some effective treatments available, and learning more about them can help you find the support you need to manage your symptoms.

The science behind PTSD

Many people’s first introduction to PTSD comes from TV and movies. Unfortunately, these aren’t always accurate, so it’s important to learn about the science behind PTSD to better understand the condition.

Researchers are still working to deepen our understanding of what causes PTSD. But, for the most part, PTSD is the result of experiencing traumatic events that leave a lasting impact on a person’s mental health. These events can be acute (like living through a natural disaster like an earthquake, a car accident, or a sudden loss). Or they can be chronic or ongoing (like experiencing abuse or neglect or living under the threat of violence). 

Sometimes, trauma can be an unfortunate but necessary aspect of a person’s job. Military members, first responders, and emergency room personnel all face trauma in the workplace, and this can make them more likely to develop PTSD.

In addition to experiencing trauma, there are other factors that might increase your risk of PTSD. These include having another mental health condition like anxiety or depression or having a close relative who also experiences mental health challenges. You’re also more likely to develop PTSD if you don’t receive enough support from your friends or loved ones after you go through a traumatic event.

Therapy vs psychiatry: Which is right for me?

How do you know if you’re having a PTSD episode?

PTSD episodes can take many forms and can last for varying amounts of time depending on the individual. Sometimes, symptoms will seem to occur all at once (like in a flashback or a bad dream). Other times, PTSD can cause ongoing, unwanted changes to the way you live your life. But there are a few common indicators that may mean you’re living with PTSD, including:

  • Having flashbacks where you feel like you’re reliving the traumatic event
  • Having recurring unwanted thoughts or dreams about the trauma
  • Having a severe emotional or physical reaction to anything that reminds you of the trauma
  • Taking extra steps, often going out of your way, to avoid anything that makes you remember the trauma
  • Experiencing difficulty managing your emotions or rapid mood swings
  • Feeling frequently irritable, angry, or on edge
  • Having a negative outlook or feeling hopeless about the future
  • Struggling to maintain important relationships
  • Having difficulty expressing positive emotions or feeling emotionally numb
  • Having trouble with sleep, focus, and concentration
  • Engaging in activities that could cause harm to you or others
  • Being easily startled or feeling like you always have to be on guard

Does PTSD go away over time?

Like other mental health conditions, there is no cure for PTSD. However, while technically PTSD cannot go away over time, with the right support, your symptoms can enter remission. This means they lessen enough for you to enjoy your life again. The first step in healing from PTSD is talking to a mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis

To determine if you have PTSD, a therapist or other mental health professional will ask you to talk about your symptoms. You won’t have to talk about the traumatic event because providers diagnose PTSD based on symptoms, not the trauma itself. They may also provide an assessment in the form of a PTSD screening questionnaire to determine whether or not you meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, including:

  • Having direct or indirect trauma exposure
  • Experiencing intrusive symptoms (like flashbacks or nightmares) related to the trauma
  • Avoiding people, places, thoughts, or things that remind you of the trauma
  • Having persistent negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma
  • Experiencing unwanted changes in mood or behavior that began or worsened after the trauma

Please note that living with any one of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate the presence of PTSD. A mental health professional will also ask you about how long your symptoms have lasted and how they affect your functioning. Remember that before undergoing any mental health evaluation, you have the right to ask questions about what the experience will entail. Your provider can walk you through each step of the process ahead of time so you know what to expect.

Read What’s the difference between a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a psychiatrist?

How is PTSD treated?

Left untreated, PTSD can take a toll on your daily life, health, and relationships. It can make it difficult to leave your home, socialize, and participate in activities you used to enjoy. Over time, PTSD can also negatively affect your physical health. It can cause increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, fatigue, stomach problems, muscle tension, headaches, and more. But fortunately, there are several effective treatments that can help you gain control of your symptoms and live a more full, balanced life. These include:

  • Active monitoring: Active monitoring is best for milder forms of PTSD. It involves evaluating a person’s symptoms over the first few weeks after the event to see if they resolve without further treatment.  
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This form of therapy is a first-choice treatment for PTSD. It involves identifying unhelpful thought and behavior patterns. Then, you can begin to change how you respond to triggering experiences and memories. CBT may also involve gradual exposure to your triggers to help reduce their effect on you. 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR can help you heal from the impact of trauma. It relies on safe, painless bilateral stimulation of the brain. You typically do this by moving your eyes back and forth or tapping your shoulders based on cues from your therapist while you process traumatic events. The process mimics the way your brain processes events while you dream.

Find support for PTSD with Rula 

If you or someone you care about is living with PTSD, you deserve effective treatment to help you heal. At Rula, we’re here to take the guesswork and confusion out of finding treatment so you can manage your symptoms and regain control of your life. In just a few clicks, we can connect you with a trauma-informed therapist who takes your insurance and can meet with you as early as this week. 

We know that living with the effects of trauma can make it difficult to access care. But with our virtual platform, you can meet with a therapist from the comfort of your home or wherever you feel most comfortable. And, our network of over 8,000 therapists means you can be seen this week. 

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