Understanding the Impact of Trauma: The Four Stages of PTSD

When a person experiences a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events, the effects can last a long time. Living with the effects of trauma can lead to the development of a mental health disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But, what many people may not know is that PTSD develops in stages. Being able to identify the stages of PTSD development may help people better understand what they’re experiencing. And, give them the information they need to make the choice to get professional help, which can assist them in managing the symptoms of PTSD. Furthermore, to live a life of better mental wellbeing.

What is PTSD and Why Consider Treatment?

PTSD is a mental health issue that develops as the result of experiencing trauma. Experiences of trauma vary from person to person and can include a number of scenarios. Some examples of traumatic experiences include losing a loved one or loved ones, surviving a natural disaster, illness or injury, combat, being the victim of abuse, being the victim of a violent crime, and more. Regardless of the traumatic experience, those who develop PTSD suffer long-term effects that debilitate daily life. Some of these effects may include nightmares, flashbacks of traumatic events, anger and irritability, avoidance behaviors, and severe anxiety.

Getting help for PTSD is important so that individuals living with this condition can get both psychological and psychiatric treatment in order to manage debilitating symptoms of PTSD that can interfere with daily life. However, some may not get help for PTSD because they don’t know that they’re experiencing it. Being aware of the stages of PTSD can help those living with this condition understand that what they’re experiencing is a mental health issue. This way, they can understand the importance of getting help and the effectiveness of treatment for those who seek it.

The Four Stages of PTSD

Trauma affects the brain in a way that brings about a number of symptoms that many may not know about. The way that mental health issues are portrayed in the media, like TV and movies, varies differently than that of real-life experience. In many cases, PTSD is shown as an issue that war veterans and emergency personnel experience, and while that can be the case, anyone can develop PTSD as long as they’ve experienced trauma. And, since trauma can differ greatly from person to person, the effects of PTSD can be very different in each case.

Thankfully, while the experience of PTSD can differ greatly on an individual basis, there are some developmental cues we have in order to help us identify this condition. This includes the four stages of PTSD, which can help to mark the development of this condition.

The four stages of PTSD include:

Stage 1: The Emergency Stage of PTSD

This is the initial stage of PTSD that incorporates the preliminary shock of a traumatic incident. For every scenario, the length of the emergency stage of the development of PTSD can differ. The length of this stage usually depends on how severe the trauma that occurs is. Some of the defining characteristics of this stage of PTSD can include:

  • feelings of surprise, revelation, and upset
  • intense feelings of doom, despair, and fear
  • avoidance of friends, family, and responsibilities
  • survival guilt
  • hyperalertness
  • anxiousness and nervousness
Stage 2: Rescue

During this second stage in the development of PTSD, individuals who have experienced trauma will begin to accept what has happened to them or what they’ve witnessed. During this stage, to get to a feeling of acceptance, a few things may have to occur. These things can include remembering and talking about traumatic experiences with people who have experienced the same or similar events or visiting the scene of the traumatic event or events. During this stage, a person may experience a number of symptoms including:

  • nightmares
  • flashbacks of the traumatic event or events
  • sadness, irritability, and bouts of anger
  • feelings of apathy and insensibility
  • isolating from loved ones
Stage 3: The Midway

This stage is what happens after a person who has dealt with trauma accepts that the trauma they’ve experienced has affected their lives. During this stage, individuals can work to get back to dealing with everyday responsibilities, including work, taking care of their home, and being an active member of their family.

Stage 4: Long Term Repair

After shifting focus back to other, daily activities, issues, and responsibilities, individuals with PTSD can learn how to manage symptoms of their mental health issues on a long-term basis. During this stage, it’s normal for people to resort back to feelings they have experienced right after the traumatic event occurred, including fear, anxiety, and worry (especially about what the future brings). However, if a person can learn how to deal with these different emotions and not avoid them, they can learn how to obtain long-term recovery.

Help for Those Living with PTSD

Do you recognize any of the stages of PTSD in your life? If so, help is available at South Coast Psychiatric Services. We offer support and treatment for people who have lived through trauma and develop PTSD as a result. Learn more about our PTSD counseling programs and treatment on our website.