Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Anxiety? How to Spot and Handle PTSD Symptoms

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Anxiety? How to Spot and Handle PTSD Symptoms

Today I bring you a guest post from my blogging friend Krystian Howe, of the amazing blog entitled, “With Love, Me.” Krystian has experience living with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Because of the importance of mental health awareness, I asked her to share her experience and insights into living with this diagnosis and PTSD symptoms. So without further ado, I hand you over to Krystian. Enjoy!

Take it Away, Krystian!

We all live with daily anxiety. It’s just a part of modern-day life. Our ancestors worried if they would have enough food to survive the winter, but we worry about missing a meeting, balancing work and home, relationships, and much more. Anxiety can look like other disorders and can often be a precursor to other mental disorders. But how do you know if you have anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? And when does anxiety turn into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Hello! My name is Krystian and I am the author and creator of With Love, Me. With Love, Me is a blog dedicated to helping you improve your mental health so you can create a life you love! I want to thank Veronica for allowing me to speak to you on a topic that is a part of my daily life: PTSD.

I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was just 15 years old! -Yes, you can become traumatized during your childhood. But I will talk about that in a bit!

Learn about another major mental health diagnosis in How BPD Changed Our Lives – Parenting a Child with Borderline Personality Disorder

Where My Story Begins

Over the past twenty years, I have hacked my mental health [found solutions that aren’t traditional] and have conquered my anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to live a better and more positive life. And I am going to help you determine if you have anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, and how to get help for yourself or a loved one.

I have hacked mental health for over 20 years, but that experience does not make me a mental health professional. This content is educational and informative and is not to replace the advice of your mental health team or doctor.

WARNING: This post has details of how I developed PTSD.  And how PTSD differs from daily anxiety.  I am sharing details of the trauma that I endured to show the difference between anxiety and PTSD.  Such details may be disturbing or difficult to read.  My story is in italics for easy skipping if you feel you cannot read it.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and How Do You Get It?   

The Mayo Clinic defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it.”

Many of these events may be life-threatening or psychologically scarring.  Such as a car accident, abuse (emotional or physical), rape, robbery, natural disaster, violence or threat of violence, war, pandemic –yes, you may experience symptoms of PTSD from all that is happening with Covid right now – and other large stressors. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not typically caused by everyday stressors such as job stress, relationship issues (nonabusive or violent), minor health issues, etc.  Stressors have to be profound.  If you have several large stressors that happen over a period or overlap, you may develop what mental health professionals call Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  C-PTSD develops when events overlap, or you have long-term exposure to stressors.

When I was a teenager, I lived in rural North Carolina.  For those of you that lived on the east coast of the United States, you remember Hurricane Floyd from the 90s.  Hurricane Floyd devastated eastern North Carolina.  The news reported property damage, flooding, power loss; you know the normal hurricane facts.  But living it was an entirely different story.

A dark and gloomy cloudy sky over a suburban neighborhood
Image by Krystian Howe
multi-colored background with the words "let's be friends" printed on top with "click here to join the facebook group"

Warning: The next few paragraphs are a PTSD experience and are in italics so you can skip if you desire.  Read at your own risk.  This story is about traumatic events surrounding a natural disaster.  

“I went to bed that night during your typical hurricane storm.  That morning I woke to water 2 feet tall on my grandfather’s property.  All the barnyard birds roosted on the roof of the home.  Ant piles floated in the water.  Fish swam at my ankles.  Trees floated in the yard.

Remarkably, my grandfather got a call from a neighbor for help.  He needed us to rescue his animals.  The family had fled to higher ground the night before, and his hunting and farm dogs were in the kennels with the rising water.

This farm was downhill from the grandfather.  And the water was significantly worse.  At 15, I was about 5 feet tall.  When I heard the screams and the thrashing of dogs trying to get out of the water, I jumped off the dying tractor to get to them.  The water lapped at my collarbone.  That’s about 4 feet tall.  There were 30 dogs in the kennel. Only 4 survived despite our efforts to breathe life back into them. One puppy and 3 adults.

When the water started rising again, we had to evacuate.  My mother drove a heavy-duty van.  The water lapped at the floorboards in the still water.  On the last quarter mile of the exit, the water rose and started moving fast.  The water rose to the bottom of the seats.  That’s about as high as seats in a full-size truck now, for reference.  And the water pushed at the vehicle.  Car tires want to float, but thankfully since my mom’s van was so heavy, we didn’t get swept away with the current.

Thankfully, my entire family survived.  But for me, the psychological scars are still there.

These events left a lasting mark on me, while my daily anxieties can be soothed with some good self-care and a stress-relieving hobby.

The Hip Grandma with a Camera says It’s Never too Late to Start a New Creative Hobby

A Suburban home with dark clouds overhead representing PTSD Symptoms
Image by Krystian Howe
Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety? And Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD Symptoms?

Hopefully, I haven’t scarred you for life by sharing one of my less traumatizing PTSD stories. As you can see, PTSD anxieties can have a deep lifelong effect.  It’s more intense than your normal daily anxiety.

Anxiety can leave you feeling snuffed out.  Let’s dive into PTSD symptoms and those of daily anxiety.

a line of candles with one snuffed out
Image by Krystian Howe

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Shared Symptoms

According to Mayo Clinic, these are the symptoms of anxiety. 

  • Feeling Nervous
  • Sense of danger or panic
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilating or rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble Concentrating
  • Sleeping Issues
  • GI issues like stomach upset, nausea, etc
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Avoidance of things that trigger anxiety

You can feel these symptoms from many everyday activities, such as an upcoming work deadline, taking a test, a fight with a spouse, a flat tire. 

Feeling anxiety is simply a response of our brain to overwhelming stimuli.  It is an ancient trait our ancestors used to survive.  However, our brain still processes stress as danger, and that causes the worry and anxiety that we feel.  You can read more about how your brain processes stress and how to combat it on my blog: With Love, Me.

black and white image of a woman's face
Image by Krystian Howe

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Additional Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically occur when the fight or flight system is reminded of a traumatic event.  They can occur hours, days, weeks, months, or years after the initial event happens.  And they don’t always make sense.

Symptoms can include:

  • Nightmares that revolve around the event
    • PTSD patients typically suffer from frequent nightmares even when they are not overly stressed. While anxiety can cause a nightmare, it is not as frequent or severe as those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. 
  • Flashbacks
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Emotional or physical reactions to “triggers” aka reminders of the event
    • While all anxiety is associated with an event, PTSD can be triggered by anything that is a reminder of the event.  One of my traumas left me with a trigger of silver Toyota trucks.  They don’t always make sense, but create an emotional or physical response to the stimulus. 
    • Normal anxiety can be eased with some simple self care, distractions techniques, or fun, and will abate as the stimulus goes away.  PTSD can last for days or weeks after a triggering event or stimulus. 
  • Memory Loss
    • Brains with PTSD try to block out traumatic memories to protect the body.
  • Many people with post traumatic stress disorder will also have depression
    • Sufferers may become deeply depressed or suicidal.
    • If you are feeling suicidal, even if you aren’t suffering from PTSD, please seek help immediately at your local Emergency Room, psychiatrist, or therapist.  You are worthy of help and are not a burden.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255

  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Emotional numbness
  • Paranoia
  • Persistent sleep problems, even when not stressed
  • Emotional dysregulation
    • Post traumatic stress disorder can cause outbursts of anger, crying, aggression that seems to come from nowhere.  It is the flight or fight response kicking in to help the body survive. 
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
    • Survivor’s guilt is common.
    • Guilt for not doing more or doing it sooner.
    • Shame for not being emotionally or physically stronger.
  • A sufferer of post traumatic stress disorder may even have an abrupt personality change
  • Developing sudden phobias or fears
Light shining through a window, depicting depression
Image by Krystian Howe

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Who can get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Unfortunately, anyone can get post-traumatic stress disorder. It does not just affect soldiers.

Yes, even children can develop PTSD, although PTSD manifests differently in children; typically, symptoms include bedwetting, crying, nightmares, and misbehaving or acting out, or reenacting the trauma through play for younger children.  And teens may rebel, have trouble in school, become reclusive, etc.

It is not just an illness for veterans, even though they were originally the most common job to experience PTSD and exhibit PTSD symptoms.

Other jobs that may increase your risk for PTSD are police, EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders.  Any military jobs are always at increased risk. 

You may be more inclined to post-traumatic stress disorder if you have a family history of mental illness and anxiety disorders, are exposed to excessive stress often, abuse drugs or alcohol, or lack a good support system.

What Should I Do if I Think I Have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The most effective treatment plan for post-traumatic stress disorder is to get help from mental health professionals.

See a psychiatrist if you desire medication for more severe symptoms of panic, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

See a therapist to help you learn professional coping skills to decrease symptom severity, reduce panic attacks, and help you live a happier life again. 

The word "HELP" written out on a wooden floor

PTSD can also come from an abuse experience. Click HERE for 15 Symptoms of PTSD from Narcissistic Abuse

Are There Some At Home Things I Can Try First?

Should you not be able to seek professional help at this time, there are a few resources you can try first.  You can also use some of these techniques to soothe daily anxiety too!!

Should these techniques not work for you, worsen your symptoms, or should your symptoms persist; please reach out and get help.  If you experience homicidal or suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately from your local ER, psychiatrist, or therapist.

a giant man walking through a cityscape - black and white
Image by Krystian Howe

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While daily anxiety is persistent in our everyday lives, it comes and goes, and can be relieved by self-care.  Daily anxiety rarely requires professional help if you have sufficient coping skills, a good support system, and persistence.

PTSD comes from a traumatizing event.  While you can try to go it alone, your brain chemistry may be changed by the event, you may have symptoms that need medication, or you need to learn professional skills to help you manage your triggers.  It is more severe than daily anxiety.

Both anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder can be serious if you “sweep it under the rug”.  While I cannot get rid of my PTSD, I live a happy life now with it and most people don’t notice.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones when anxiety is worse.  Kindness is free!  Take some time off, relax and recharge so you can feel relief and be your best self again.

If you have questions, please contact your medical health care provider or mental health professional to address your concerns.  Click HERE to find mental health services and behavioral health treatment services in your area.

I hope to see you over at With Love, Me to help you create a life you love while improving your mental health!

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