AT A GLANCE
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Returning service members experience combat stress, which is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Common stress and PTSD aren't that different. It's more of a matter of severity, frequency and intensity.
Combat stress is a response that can happen to anyone who has experienced a significantly stressful combat or operational event.
The term combat stress usually refers to a cluster of symptoms that can occur following exposure to significant stressors related to combat and operational events. It is generally viewed as a normal reaction to abnormal conditions. When someone experiences combat stress, it may be of a limited intensity or duration and require no help from a professional.
The symptoms of PTSD are more intense, more frequent and last longer than those of combat stress. The symptoms of PTSD include:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms:
• Flashbacks — reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating.
• Bad dreams.
• Frightening thoughts.
• Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person's everyday routine. They can start from the person's own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.
2. Avoidance symptoms:
• Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience.
• Feeling emotionally numb.
• Feeling strong guilt, depression or worry.
• Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past.
• Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
• Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
3. Hyperarousal symptoms:
• Being easily startled.
• Feeling tense or “on edge.”
• Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.
Sources: Steve Scruggs, clinical psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; National Institute on Mental Health; The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy