PTSD – How to Survive It

PTSD is a common mental ailment that affects people from all walks of life who undergo life-changing, traumatic stress typically resulting from incidental or sustained negative experiences.

You often hear PTSD brought up in a negative context when referring to someone, oftentimes a military veteran, has been changed or otherwise negatively affected by the things they saw in a combat zone.

woman showing ptsd next to ambulance

In reality, PTSD can affect anyone, young or old, and can be brought on even by mundane accidents.

Since the business of survival is rarely pretty, it is definitely in your best interest to learn about and understand the symptoms and effects of PTSD since you, a family member or someone you know in your survival group may very well be affected by it during or after a survival situation.

Learning to manage PTSD is essential both for good health and quality of life, and will be an important factor in a long-term survival situation.

In today’s article, we will provide you with an overview of PTSD, its symptoms, how it occurs and what you can do to manage it as a prepper.

What is PTSD Exactly?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety disorder that affects seven and a half million Americans at press time, and many more around the world.

That is a significant fraction of the population and makes PTSD one of the most common mental ailments. As many as 10% of adults will develop PTSD in one form or another at some point in their life.

PTSD is typically caused by exposure to a traumatic event.

Stereotypically, this is thought to be combat stress since military veterans are disproportionately represented among those who suffer from PTSD, but in reality anything from an automobile or industrial accident to domestic abuse or the sudden death of a loved one may cause PTSD.

Even pronounced childhood neglect may lead to PTSD much later on in life.

That is one of the most insidious elements of PTSD: it is not even necessary to undergo or experience the trauma yourself in order to be afflicted with it; simply witnessing something terrible happening to someone you don’t know is enough to trigger it.

With so many stressors in the world and no shortage of mayhem, tragedy and harm it seems impossible to believe that one could get through a major disaster or other survival situation unscathed.

Making matters even more difficult, PTSD may occur immediately after the traumatic event, or potentially weeks, months or even years later.

Especially in “slow burner” cases of PTSD, this can make diagnosis and treatment difficult since someone who has been living your life normally up to that point may not be correctly assessed for past traumas.

Effects and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD has mental, emotional and physical effects. Behavioral changes are common along with a host of other anxiety-related issues. Most people will experience PTSD differently as individuals.

While there are some typical symptoms, cases of PTSD do not look the same person to person, and in many cases it is entirely possible that someone who is predominantly suffering internally will escape detection by friends and family.

However differently an individual might experience PTSD, most of the symptoms can be grouped into three main blocks of related issues and disturbances.

Some typical PTSD symptoms include:

Reliving or Re-Experiencing of Trauma(s)

  • Intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and memories are upsetting, increasing stress and interrupting normal train of thought. Obsessive behavior may develop as a result of these errant thoughts.
  • Nightmares, often severe, that may or may not relate to the traumatic event. Disruption of sleep and growing dread of bedtime will further increase the strain on an already strained psyche. Nightmares may become increasingly disruptive, enough to disturb partners in the same bed. This will have second- and third-order effects on relationships.
  • Intense emotional distress. Negative emotions associated with the flashbacks and other intrusive thoughts often become more frequent, occurring more often and lasting longer.
  • Increased fight-or-flight response. The body will often exhibit a physical reaction to mental strain and stress brought on by PTSD. Profuse sweating, a racing heartbeat, upset stomach or nausea and labored breathing are all commonly encountered and are all physical hallmarks of the body’s acute stress response system.

Avoidance Behaviors and Personality Alterations

  • Feelings that the future is meaningless, or that life is short and futile commonly manifest in those who are suffering from PTSD. This general feeling of futility may go on to contaminate the rest of their thoughts and actions.
  • Numbness, detachment and sense of unreality. Many PTSD sufferers complain of a pervasive sense of unreality or lack of stimuli. They might feel as if they are passengers trapped within a body that is moving through an environment they don’t belong to.
  • Memory loss. Sufferers of PTSD will often report lost or missing memories prior to, during or immediately after the traumatic event. They may forget wholesale otherwise pertinent and easily remembered details regarding the trauma itself.
  • Avoidance of reminders. Sufferers of PTSD will consciously or unconsciously avoid any activity, place or topics that remind them of the traumatic event that caused their suffering. This can be people, situations, places, activities or even media.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, activities and other enjoyable situations that once interested them. A general malaise or lack of interest in life is common.
  • Chemical abuse and dependency unfortunately goes with PTSD hand in hand. People who are suffering will often turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate and find relief. Those who have struggled with drugs or alcohol in the past, or are predisposed to addictive behavior will often see their use skyrocket.

Anxiety and Related Issues

  • A feeling of jumpiness or edginess is common for those suffering from PTSD. They may be easily startled or frightened by otherwise inconsequential things.
  • Feelings of paranoia and hypervigilance. PTSD sufferers will often be constantly on alert and on the lookout for anything that may harm them or their families. Combined with feelings of dread, this may lead to a behavioral complex where they are unable to relax at all.
  • Inability to pay attention or concentrate. Conversely, some people suffering from PTSD find it impossible to concentrate or pay attention for any length of time. Some may find it impossible to focus at all.
  • Feelings of resentment, anger, bitterness or general hostility. Profound emotional and cognitive changes may well accompany PTSD. Some sufferers are sullen, others develop a hair-trigger temper.
  • Difficulty sleeping. Between the nightmares and the other emotional issues so prevalent with PTSD, a normal sleep schedule is often impossible to attain. A lack of sleep itself is a major stressor all on its own, and will further compound the suffering of someone affected by PTSD.

All told, whatever symptoms a PTSD sufferer is experiencing they will likely be irritable and experience increased, even insurmountable difficulty in getting along with other people, even people they were previously very close with.

PTSD sufferers often experience tumultuous family life, and even those who are understanding and generally helpful will find it rough going when the sufferer becomes remote, argumentative, hostile or even furiously angry.

It must be noted though that the majority of PTSD sufferers do not become violent or act out violently or otherwise we live a violent trauma when undergoing flashbacks or otherwise recalling a violent trauma. It is not unheard of, but it is not common.

The latest research also suggests that PTSD may aggravate existing physical health problems, cardiovascular disease being foremost among them. Whether this is correlational or causal remains unknown.

Unfortunately, it is common for PTSD symptoms to increase and get worse over time. Actively dealing with PTSD includes applying the correct treatments and remedies and doing so as early as possible in order to head off a negative feedback loop that can put someone in a crisis situation.

PTSD Risk Factors

Trying to nail down the cause and effect of PTSD affliction is like chasing a ghost. The vast majority of people who undergo traumatic experiences, even hideous ones, do not get PTSD.

What’s worse is that two people who undergo the exact same traumatic experience will have different chances of getting PTSD. One may, and the other may not.

Current research suggests, but has not proven, that genetics may have something to do with someone’s predisposition to PTSD.

Even in the case that two people go through the exact same traumatic experience and both get PTSD, the intensity of the symptoms and their subsequent suffering may be very different.

One person maybe irritable, cranky and have a hard time sleeping due to nightmares and general anxiety.

The other may suffer terribly physically, undergo severe personality changes, experience depression and a whole host of other negative effects. There does not seem to be much rhyme or reason to it.

There are a few generally reliable markers though. More than anything else, sexual assault seems to be a leading cause of PTSD, even more than heavy combat action.

Additionally, controlling for all other variables women are more than twice as likely as men to experience PTSD in response to trauma.

Curiously, that does not hold true in the case of combat action-induced PTSD, where men and women undergo very similar rates of PTSD in response.

It sucks to say, but you may not always be able to tell who is going to get or is currently suffering from PTSD until they start to exhibit symptoms in the wake of a traumatic event.

This is further complicated for preppers since symptoms may only surface weeks or even months after the triggering event.

That means you have to be proactive, persistent and attentive if you want to catch PTSD as early as you can and attempt to head it off.

Dealing with PTSD

The good news is that PTSD is not permanent! With persistent, proper treatment a full recovery is entirely possible. You or someone you care about can once again be free from the symptoms of PTSD.

More than anything else, no matter how hard it is, one of the most important factors in minimizing PTSD suffering and mitigating its symptoms is social support in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

I know, I just said above that someone may not exhibit symptoms right away. That does not mean they are okay!

The best thing you can do if you or someone you know and care about has undergone trauma is to be there for them no matter what, and especially no matter what they say.

Also encouraging, is that PTSD treatment can help no matter how long ago the initial trauma was incurred.

Some sufferers go their entire lives, decade after decade, suffering with PTSD that may or may not be diagnosed but at any rate is going untreated. It will only get worse, not better, without treatment.

When these people decide or are sometimes forced by the people they care about to get treatment they do get better. Even those who suffer with persistent PTSD will show improvement in quality of life through even basic treatment.

PTSD Treatment

Primary treatments for PTSD are dependent upon combination therapy, meaning psychological therapy and pharmaceuticals in tandem, and should be administered by medical professionals with the appropriate accreditation and in the right settings.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is one noted and effective treatment for sufferers of PTSD. It is used to help individuals identify the thoughts that upset them, and teaches them to replace them with less distressing thoughts. Another treatment is Eye Movement Desensitization and

Reprocessing therapy, or EMDR. This therapy focuses on the link between rapid eye movements that occur while distressing thoughts are happening in the mind of the sufferer.

By working on voluntarily controlling and slowing these eye movements, the intensity of the stress felt by the PTSD suffer can be lessened.

While effective, these treatments all rely on medical professional’s administration in a controlled setting.

If you are not a doctor and a doctor is not available to help, these techniques will probably not be much good in an austere setting such as one you’ll probably encounter during a long-term survival scenario.

PTSD in the Context of a Survival Situation

A severe, long-term survival situation of the type that most of us are preparing for (the kind where typical societal functions are severely disrupted to non-existent, the rule of law is shaky or absent and death, disfigurement and human suffering is all too common) will be a veritable cornucopia of events that can and likely will cause PTSD in a significant fraction of the population at large.

Think about it: death, injury and suffering due to unstoppable natural events or willful human evil will be common. Starvation will become a mass casualty factor in America for the first time in decades.

Cities will burn. People will riot and loot. Brother will turn against brother.

People who have already have PTSD will all but certainly be impacted by these events and will grow worse.

People without PTSD, at least quite a lot them, will be on a sort of ticking clock until they have it considering the sustained stresses and traumas they will be subjected to day in and day out. PTSD will never really help your chances for survival.

At a time when rest will hard enough to come by it might be impossible to really sleep when suffering from PTSD in a sustained SHTF situation. That will degrade further an already battered psyche.

The resulting interpersonal challenges and friction resulting from all the symptoms of PTSD will fray group dynamics to the breaking point.

One explosive outburst can lead to the fracturing of a survival group or massive family dysfunction when all must pull together to survive.

It goes without saying, but the onset of PTSD or dealing with persistent PTSD symptoms is going to be almost a constant in a survival situation, and one that is regrettably, chronically overlooked by preppers.

A Prepper’s Approach to Helping with PTSD

Even if you have no medical training whatsoever, you can have a positive impact on someone suffering from PTSD.

Your helpfulness may also make the difference between a positive and negative outcome in a survival situation. Supporting those with PTSD is more likely to keep them in an effective capacity within your group.

If someone close to you is suffering from PTSD, do the following:

  • Understand the difference between PTSD behavior and their actual feelings: never forget that PTSD is a condition. The thoughts, feelings and disturbances that someone is experiencing may conflict with their actual desires. Even if they act irrationally, angrily or out of character in a way that is upsetting or hurtful to you, you must always remind yourself that that is not really who they are or what they think.
  • Accommodate Symptoms: If someone trends being withdrawn while suffering with PTSD symptoms, you can accommodate their need for solitude while gently reminding them that you’re always going to be there for them and that you will do anything to help them. Conversely, if someone feels the need to talk about what they are going through, you should make it a point to listen to them without judgment or reinforcing any negative talk on their part.
  • Avoid Triggers! Many sufferers with PTSD will be easily triggered by various stimuli. This could be an activity, a sound, a smell, a place or something else. No matter what it is you must take all available action to avoid exposing the sufferer to those triggers!

Helping someone else with PTSD is one thing, helping yourself is another matter entirely. If you know or suspect you are suffering from PTSD, you should try the following self-help procedures:

  • Practice Mindfulness: Focusing on your present experiences and feelings can help minimize the effects of negative thoughts brought on by PTSD. This can be something as simple as focusing on a pleasant experience, like a taste or smell. It could be disciplined focus on a simple task, like folding the laundry or doing the dishes. Generally, being aware of the present moment and the positive feelings within it will help you manage negative feelings from your past.
  • Don’t Judge Your Feelings: It is generally helpful to accept and experience your thoughts and emotions that accompany them without judging them in any negative way. Try to let them pass, flow into you and through you, without clawing on to them or trying to push them out. Treat them like the weather, and let them run their course.
  • Seek Out Others: The urge to isolate yourself may be strong if you are suffering from PTSD. Try not to give in to that. The company of others, especially pleasant people but you are close with, will only help. It can also be beneficial to seek out other people who might be suffering from PTSD, now or in the past, and use their perspective(s) on it to help your own.
  • Resist the Call of the Bottle: While it can be very strong, you should do everything within your power to resist the call of the pill or alcohol bottle. While either may be effective in improving your mood and feelings in the short-term, they will only lead to a vicious cycle of dependency that will be even more destructive and make your journey to Healing even harder.


PTSD is an extremely common and insidiously pervasive mental health threat, they can strike in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic experience or years and years afterward.

While all sufferers will exhibit their own symptoms and responses to PTSD, none of them are good, and they can range from aggravatingly inconvenient to life-alteringly disruptive and destructive.

You should be aware of what PTSD and its symptoms look like, and stay alert for it both in your own life and the lives of other people who have lived through traumatic experiences.

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