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FAA Employee Assistance Program: PTSD Overview

When a person experiences a traumatic or dangerous event, a series of chemical reactions are triggered within the body. These reactions are designed to help handle a threat and prepare to fight or run away from the threat. Physical changes include increased heart rate, change in blood pressure, and an increase in overall adrenaline.

What is PTSD?

The National Alliance on MentalHealth (NAMI) defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a disorder that can occur following a traumatic event. PTSD causes a person to become caught in a pattern that may increase anxiety, sleeplessness, anger, or fear.

It may take a few days or weeks to overcome a traumatic experience and during those days of recovery one may experience signs and symptoms similar to PTSD. This is a normal reaction of the body and mind processing and healing from the experience. When someone becomes caught in a constant pattern of experiencing their trauma for months and years, they are experiencing PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

Re-experiencing is when a person continues to have the same mental, emotional, and physical experiences that occurred during or just after the trauma. This includes thinking about the trauma, seeing images of the event, feeling agitated, and having physical sensations like those that occurred during the trauma. Trauma survivors find themselves feeling and acting as if the trauma is happening again: feeling as if they are in danger, experiencing panic sensations, wanting to escape, getting angry, and thinking about attacking or harming someone else. Because they are anxious and physically agitated, they may have trouble sleeping and trouble concentrating.

Avoidance is another symptom. People who have been through traumas usually seek to avoid reminders. Ways of avoiding thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the trauma can include avoiding conversations, staying away from places, activities, or people that might be a reminder of the trauma, or even“shutting down” emotionally or feeling emotionally numb to things. Avoiding thinking about trauma or avoiding treatment for trauma-related problems may keep a person from feeling upset in the short run. But avoiding treatment of continuing trauma symptoms, prevents progress coping with trauma so that people’s trauma symptoms don’t go away.

Secondary Symptoms of PTSD

Secondary symptoms are problems that come about because of having post-traumatic re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms. Associated symptoms are problems that don’t come directly from being overwhelmed with fear, but happen because of other things that were going on at the time of the trauma.

Events that can lead to PTSD

  • Natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes
  • A car accident or plane crash
  • Terrorist attack
  • Sudden death of a loved one or friend
  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Acts of violence such as a robbery or murder
  • Physical abuse
  • Childhood neglect or abuse
  • War

PTSD and co-occurring conditions

People who suffer from PTSD often have additional conditions that co-occur with PTSD which could include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance abuse

Next steps

If you or a loved one has PTSD it is important to get help right away. The earlier PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome. It is natural to want to avoid any painful memories or feelings from a traumatic event, but this will only cause the PTSD to get worse. For more information, please contact the WorkLife Solutions Program,

1-800-234-1327 or TTY users, 1-800-456-4006.

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