There’s a lot more awareness around post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than ever before. Even so, we can all benefit from more self-education. For example, did you know that PTSD impacts men and women differently? Women experience trauma and PTSD more often — and the gap may be wider than we imagine. Generally speaking, it takes longer for a woman to be diagnosed.
Men tend to get a PTSD diagnosis within a year of experiencing trauma. For women, that time frame often is four times longer. With this many women struggling with PTSD and diagnosis lagging, there’s obviously a need for more understanding. Let’s work a little on that now.
General PTSD Symptoms
To follow are signs and symptoms common to both sexes:
- Intrusive thoughts that may take the form of nightmares or flashbacks
- Avoiding any reminders of the traumatic event
- Memory issues
- Anxiety, being easily startled, and hyper-vigilance
- Physical symptoms, like an increased heart rate, sleep disturbance, or excessive sweating
- Irritability and anger
- Feeling empty inside
- Feeling guilt and shame
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Self-harm and suicidal ideation
Which Signs & Symptoms of PTSD Are More Common in Women?
Women with PTSD can display a deep emotional numbness. Feelings are suppressed in an unconscious attempt to evade painful memories and mental images. Just as commonly, women can experience hyper-arousal. They feel everything and feel it intensely. This typically results in the hyper-vigilance mentioned above.
Emotional numbness (above) squashes emotions. This avoidance will lead a woman to do everything possible to avoid crossing paths with certain triggers. These could be people, places, or sensory input like smells and sounds. Literal avoidance tends to worsen all other PTSD symptoms over time.
Re-Living the Trauma
Studies show that women are far more likely to experience flashbacks, nightmares, and other intrusive, trauma-related thoughts. These symptoms can hamper recovery because the person cannot always differentiate between real and perceived threats. Simply put, if a flashback feels real, your mind and body respond as if it is real. This can increase the hold PTSD has on one’s mind.
Another Trend Specific to Women and PTSD
In general, men take longer to report mental health symptoms than women do. This would explain why more women have depression, but more men attempt suicide. With PTSD, however, the shame factor may play a major role. Women are more often traumatized, and this often involves sexual abuse, assault, and/or domestic abuse.
Fearful of not being believed or being blamed, many women opt to try managing symptoms on their own. This can lead to substance abuse and a wide array of additional physical symptoms — including sexual dysfunction.
We began by lauding how much awareness had grown about PTSD. Well, here is a huge way that we must do better. Women, of course, should be less often the target of egregious attacks. But even when they are, they need safe spaces to come forward and speak their truth. This crucial task can begin with more people being familiar with the signs and symptoms of PTSD.
The Importance of Self-Help
In addition to getting the appropriate treatment, women with PTSD can commit to powerful self-help steps to help with their recovery, e.g.:
- Daily self-care
- Maintaining regular sleep patterns
- Relaxation techniques like yoga and mindful meditation
- Exercise and physical activity
- Engaging in creative outlets
- Making healthy eating choices
- Setting (and enforcing) boundaries
Most importantly, women must be safely guided to connect with experienced mental health professionals. If this post spurred questions about yourself or someone you know, we’d love to talk more with you about it! We have trained trauma professionals on staff ready to help you walk through PTSD and its symptoms. You can self-schedule here, give us a call at 301-690-0779 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org We look forward to serving you!