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Understanding Combat Trauma and PTSD Symptoms

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

If you’re reading this article you’ve likely been wondering, “What exactly is PTSD?” Let’s start with a specific definition. American Psychiatric Association defines post traumatic stress disorder as, “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.”

When it comes to combat veterans, these traumatic events are often experiences in war. As a result, veterans suffering from PTSD may find certain aspects of everyday life to be a triggering reminder of unpleasant memories.

What are Common Symptoms of PTSD?

Signs that you or a loved one are experiencing PTSD can be complex and range across a symptoms, but here are some of the most common signs of PTSD in veterans:

Flashbacks and Intrusive Thinking

Combat veterans with PTSD can often experience intrusive thoughts and memories that mentally transport them back to a traumatic event without them wanting to relive the memory.

  • PTSD flashbacks can occur during waking life

  • Symptoms can take the form of painful dreams or night tremors

  • Veterans can experiences physical reactions like heightened levels the stress hormone cortisol

Depression and Changes in Mood

Combat veterans with PTSD may experience a general sense of detachment in civilian life. While relationships with family and friends were once a familiar part of life, traumatic war experiences often keep them absorbed in negative thinking.

  • Loss of interest in activities and relationships

  • Feeling hopeless even after returning from combat

  • Sadness and feeling numb

  • Inability to enjoy the present

  • Difficulty relating to family and friends


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How Can You Help Someone with PTSD?

When it comes to helping someone in your life manage symptoms of PTSD, there are a few guiding principles to keep in mind.

Be patient. Sometimes behavior brought on by trauma can be hard to understand from an outside perspective. Even in regard to memories, experiences, and triggers you don't immediately understand, it's important to remain a supportive presence.

Learn to manage triggers. Anything that brings on a PTSD symptom is considered a trigger. For different combat veterans, triggers can take many forms—certain places, items, situations, or people. Learning what triggers the veteran in your life will help navigate situations in which these factors are present.

Provide a support system. Social situations can be difficult for veterans with PTSD to navigate, since one of the most prominent symptoms of trauma is difficulty engaging in relationships. Even relationships that were once very familiar for an individual may seem foreign after experiencing the trauma of combat. In these situations, it is important to show compassion to those experiencing PTSD, rather than force them into unwanted social interaction. Encouraging a social situation when a trauma survivor does not wish to engage may trigger anxiety or unpleasant thoughts, so it is important to be compassionate and understanding.

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