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PTSD | Symptoms & Treatments

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a medical illness that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. PTSD is often also called ‘trauma.’  Following a traumatic event, experiencing symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety is normal, but when the severity of symptoms becomes progressively worse instead of better, it is important to reach out to your medical and mental health support providers.  

PTSD symptoms may increase during periods of stress or when you encounter reminders (‘triggers’) of your experience.  At times, you may feel periods of increased symptoms without realizing the cause.  Your subconscious brain may recognize a ‘trigger’ that you are not consciously aware of.

PTSD can have a huge impact on your life and on your loved ones.  It can make it difficult to connect with your loved ones, impact your concentration so that it’s difficult to work or stay on topic in a conversation, result in chronic feelings of anxiety and stress or depression, impact your sleep (nightmares or insomnia), and it can result in the exhausting need to be alert at every moment of the day and night.  Because the brain has rewired itself to be hyper-alert to threats, it becomes very common to avoid things that cause increased stress because it’s so challenging.  When this happens, it can feel like your world is shrinking.  PTSD is an exhausting illness with your brain and body working overtime and negative emotions like guilt, anger, shame, and sadness dominating.

Because PTSD symptoms can be so severe, reaching out for help is important.  There are therapies and PTSD treatments that can help!

Several criteria for diagnosis have been identified:

  • A stressor (traumatic event)
  • Intrusion symptoms
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in cognition (thinking) and mood
  • Changes in arousal and reactivity
  • Duration (how long have the symptoms lasted)
  • Functional significance (the symptoms have a negative impact on your life)
  • The symptoms are not due to another diagnosis.

PTSD Symptoms

So what are the signs of PTSD?  Symptoms may include:

Intrusion Symptoms:

  • Memories of the event
  • Emotional distress and physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
  • Reliving the event
  • Nightmares

Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts

Feelings or reminders

Negative changes in cognition (thinking) and mood:

  • Isolation
  • Difficulty feeling positive emotion
  • Decreased interest in activities
  • Negative thinking patterns
  • Self-blame
  • Blame on others for causing the trauma
  • Difficulty remembering key aspects of the trauma

Alterations in arousal and reactivity:

  • Easily startled
  • ‘On guard’ (hyperarousal)
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Self-destructive behaviour


  • Feeling like an outside observer
  • Feeling detached


  • Feeling of unreality
  • Feeling distant

Treatments for PTSD



Renew clinicians use a broad range of tools in order to support your recovery. These include Cognitive Behavioural strategies, Dialectical Behaviour strategies, distress tolerance, behaviour activation, stress and anxiety management, emotion regulation training, graded exposure therapies, setting boundaries, etc. Learn more about PTSD counselling and psychotherapy at Renew in Ottawa.


Current research tells us that basic strategies such as daily exercise, good nutrition, healthy work-life balance, spending time with loved ones, enjoying relaxation time, decreasing screen time, prioritizing and optimizing sleep, and more, have a significant positive impact on mental health.

Renew therapists can support you in restructuring your daily routine, setting boundaries, establishing realistic goals and identifying priorities as you shift to a healthier and more balanced life.


Chronic anxiety has been shown to have a detrimental effect on brain function. Clients discuss difficulty with attention and memory. They often comment on struggling to organize their thoughts, and feeling immobilized with the prospect of never-ending to do lists.

Renew therapists are experienced in providing cognitive rehabilitation and support. They will assist you in developing strategies and tools that will both support symptoms in the short term, and promote long-term recovery.



Debilitating symptoms can be a barrier to participating in work, school, or even social or community activities. Once your symptoms are sufficiently improved to allow you to return to the parts of your life that you have lost, your therapist will be able to help you develop a plan for success with a return to work/school program.


Neurofeedback therapy for PTSD begins with a brain map that can show your therapist the patterns of brain function that may contribute to your symptoms. Once the patterns are identified, brain training sessions can be completed to help ‘normalize’ and/or reorganize the brain activity to improve its ability to function more efficiently and flexibly. Once the brain is better able to regulate itself, symptoms are better managed.

Anxiety symptoms typically respond well to neurofeedback.


Neuromeditation is a style of meditation that takes your brain activity and natural skills into account. By assessing your skills prior to beginning meditation training, you and your therapist are able to identify meditation styles that best match your personality and lifestyle. Clients typically report that learning to meditate is less difficult when applying neuromeditation techniques.

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