Stress & Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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Image of Veteran getting help from a counselor.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe stress reaction from living through or seeing an event that threatens life. With PTSD, symptoms usually begin within 6 weeks to 3 months of the event. Symptoms of PTSD can begin years later, though. When symptoms do occur, they must last for at least one month for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made. PTSD is a medical diagnosis made by a mental health professional.

Signs & Symptoms

Physical symptoms of stress are: Increased heart rate and blood pressure; rapid breathing; and tense muscles.


Emotional reactions include being angry and having a lack of concentration.

Other symptoms of PTSD are intense fear or horror and feeling helpless, in a “daze,”  detached, etc.


Marriage or divorce, job loss or the threat of being fired, all create stress. So do countless other things.


Living through or seeing an event that threatens life can cause PTSD. Events include combat exposure, sexual or physical assault, and a serious accident. A past unhealed trauma increases the risk for PTSD. People with depression or other mental health conditions are also at greater risk.


Self-care measures deal with most cases of stress. When these are not enough, counseling and/or medical care may be needed.


Professional treatment is needed for PTSD. Left untreated, PTSD will not go away and can greatly affect a person’s life.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

•  Maintain good health habits. Eat healthy foods. Get enough sleep.

•  Limit caffeine. It causes anxiety and increases the stress response.

•  If you drink alcohol, do so wisely.

•  Get regular exercise.

•  Check with your doctor about taking vitamins and minerals. This is especially true for ones labeled “stress tablets” or “stress formulas.”

•  Don’t let your emotions get “bottled up inside.” Share your feelings with others.

•  Do a “stress rehearsal.” Imagine yourself feeling calm and handling the stressful situation.

•  Balance work and personal life. Do things you enjoy and look forward to. Escape for a little while. See a movie, visit a friend, etc.

•  Be with cheerful people. Help others.

•  Reduce or manage exposure to things that cause stress.

•  Rank order daily tasks. Don’t commit to doing too much.

•  Studies show that having a pet, such as a dog or cat, appears to buffer the effects of stress on health.

•  View changes as positive challenges.

•  Laugh a lot. Keep a sense of humor.

•  Take a bath or shower with warm water. Listen to music that is calming.

•  Reward yourself with little things that make you feel good. Give yourself some “me” time.

•  Count to 10 when you’re so upset you want to scream. This helps to calm you down. Avoid unnecessary arguments.

•  Have a warm cup of herbal tea.

•  Do relaxation exercises daily. Imagine a soothing, restful scene. Do deep muscle relaxation. (Tense and relax muscle fibers.) Meditate. Do deep breathing.

•  Remember that it is not an event that causes stress, but how you react to it. Change your thoughts about an event to help manage stress.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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