Stress symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder

​In brief

  • Sudden traumatic events cause psychological stress symptoms in nearly all of us, including children and adolescents.
  • Symptoms caused by acute stress usually subside within a few hours or days, and their overall duration does not usually last a month beyond the traumatic event.
  • If the stress symptoms do not ease after about a month, this can sometimes indicate a post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorderli>
      • Re-experiencing the event in the form of distressing thoughts, images or sensations
      • Anything reminding of the event, perpetrator or the place of event might trigger negative emotions or distressing thoughts
      • Dreams and nightmares of the event
      • Avoidance of things, events or thoughts that recall the trauma
      • Hyperarousal; sleeping problems and difficulty in concentrating, feeling 'on edge'
      • Irritability and angry outbursts.
 
As a concept, child sexual abuse encompasses a large scale of various sexual acts against children or indirectly taking advantage of a child for sexual purposes, for example. There can be one of several events and the acts can be very different from each other. Sudden traumatic events naturally cause psychological stress symptoms in nearly all of us, including children and adolescents. Symptoms caused by acute stress usually subside within a few hours or days, and their overall duration does not usually last a month beyond the traumatic event. If the symptoms last longer, this can sometimes indicate a post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress symptoms can begin within a few days of the event, but generally begin within three months. Sometimes people may experience delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder, where the development of symptoms takes longer.
 
One example of a strong stress symptom is reliving the experience through distressing thoughts, images or sensations. In addition, anything that serves as a reminder of the event, perpetrator or the place of event might trigger negative emotions or distressing thoughts. Children may express trauma-related themes in their play, but you should be careful in interpreting children's play. Dreams and nightmares about the event are also usual. While it is natural to avoid things, events or thoughts that recall the trauma, in the long run this is not a good coping strategy as it might begin to restrict one's life in many ways.
 
Other symptoms experienced by children might include hyperarousal, which involves sleeping troubles, irritability and outbursts of anger, as well as difficulty in concentrating, being excessively on guard, or fearfulness. The child or adolescent might also feel insecure and be afraid of places similar to where the abuse took place.

All the symptoms described above are an understandable reaction to a negative or confusing event. It is possible to influence these symptoms, thoughts and feelings and either get rid of them entirely or learn to control them.