Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that develops in some individuals who are exposed to a shocking, traumatic, or dangerous event. Instead of experiencing a normal period of distress followed by a natural consolidation of memories and return to pre-trauma functioning, people who develop PTSD continue to be highly distressed by thoughts and memories of the traumatic event they experienced. This distress can lead to significant relationship, emotional and occupational problems, and can become a chronic life-long disorder if not treated. While early treatment is preferable, even people who have suffered for many years with PTSD can experience improvements as long as they are given effective treatment, which is now available to Air Force members in all military treatment facilities, CONUS and OCONUS.
The normal reaction to a traumatic event is to experience symptoms of extreme fear, anxiety, worry, panic, or paralysis. This is a protective, adaptive response that your body goes through in the face of a traumatic event such as combat, rape, assault, or a natural disaster. It is the way in which your body communicates a desire to defend itself against potential death. Put another way, the fear of death, or fear in response to events that may result in death, is a very normal, healthy human response.
Fear can trigger split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger, or to avoid danger altogether. This “fight-flight-or-freeze” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. However, in the case of PTSD, this response from the body continues even when the person is no longer in bodily danger. The individual with PTSD continues to experience extreme panic, fear, and dread in response to memories, thoughts, conversations, or situations that are reminders of the actual traumatic event. These “contextual cues” can include different situations, people, events, and memories, and can result in a reaction similar to the reaction experienced during the actual traumatic event. Obviously, this can be very upsetting to the individual and can cause significant problems in day-to-day life.