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What You Need to Know about PTSD

Wherever there are people there is the potential to suffer trauma. You may witness it, be a victim of it, or have a family member experience it. The pandemic has been traumatic for millions of people who have gotten sick, lost jobs, and lost loved ones.

One of the possible results is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a mental health disorder triggered most often by either witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event.

It is often associated with combat veterans. But you don’t have to be a soldier, sailor, or Marine to suffer from PTSD.

By the Numbers

The trauma that can lead to PTSD is not as rare as you might imagine. Neither is PTSD. About 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one trauma in their lifetime.

Women are more likely to experience child sexual abuse while growing up, or sexual assault. Men are more likely to experience assaults, combat, accidents, or to witness death or injury according to the National Center for PTSD.

In the United States:

  • 6% of the population will have PTSD at some point
  • 12 million adults have PTSD during any given year
  • 8% of women develop PTSD some time in their lives
  • 4% of men develop PTSD at some time

When It Happens

Not everyone who has PTSD has suffered a dangerous event, or even witnessed one. Suddenly losing a loved one can have a similar effect. Symptoms usually happen within three months of the triggering event and don’t last more than a month.

If they last longer than a month and are severe enough to interfere with work or relationships, it could be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important to see a psychiatrist or psychologist if you think you are suffering from PTSD.

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There are typically four types of symptoms:

1. Intrusive memories — This could include unwanted memories of the event, flashbacks, nightmares, severe emotional distress, or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event.

2. Avoidance — This could include avoiding people, places, or activities that remind you of the event, or not talking or even thinking about the event.

3. Negative changes in mood and thinking — This includes feelings of hopelessness, memory problems, feelings of detachment, lack of interest in favorite activities, emotional numbness, negative thoughts about yourself, the world, or others, difficult experiencing positive emotions.

4. Changes in emotional and physical reactions — Also called arousal symptoms, this could include guilt or shame, being easily startled or frightened, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, angry outbursts, aggressive behavior, self-destructive behavior, constantly on guard for danger.

Children six years old and younger may re-enact the traumatic event or parts of it through play. They may also have frightening dreams that could include aspects of the event.

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What to Do

Some people may not experience PTSD for years while others experience it right away. Symptoms may be stronger when you’re generally stressed or reminded of what happened either by a sound, smell, location, or situation.

Reach out to a mental health professional, loved one, or close friend if you have suicidal thoughts or are thinking of harming yourself. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK and speak with a trained counselor.

AltaMed Is Here to Help

AltaMed’s experienced Behavioral Health team is staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish and are trained to help you cope with life’s stressors. Short-term therapy is available, and we can connect members with mental health services if long-term therapy or other support is needed. If you or a loved one have experienced trauma and need support, there are resources available to you. Call us at (855) 425-1777 to get started.

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How to Manage Holiday Stress

Most of us have some stress in our everyday lives. Whether it’s anxiety from work, family drama, or worries about our health, there’s plenty of stressors to contend with. The holiday season, for all its magic, also comes with plenty of pressure. There’s the shopping, the travel, and the need to spend time with all the important people in our lives.

More serious types of anxiety, too, can resurface this time of year. Painful feelings like grief about the past or loss of a loved one, or unresolved trauma caused by people we’re expected to see, can be difficult to navigate. For people who can’t be with their families, feelings of lonliness often accompany the holidays.

No matter the cause, feeling stressed is normal and learning how to cope with it will serve you not only through the new year, but for many years to come.

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The Body and Stress

Your body releases hormones whenever you’re stressed. It is part of the fight-or-flight response that has developed over millions of years. You become more alert, your muscles get tense, and your pulse increases. The stress is meant to help you handle the situation. Staying stressed, even after the underlying cause has been dealt with, can lead to chronic stress which causes health problems like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Menstrual problems
  • Anxiety

Anxiety is what happens when the stress becomes out of control. You are in a constant state of worry. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in appetite, energy, and motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling angry, frustrated, sad, scared, or worried
  • Headaches, body aches, stomach problems, or rashes
  • Nightmares
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
  • Worsening physical or mental health
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Keys to Managing Holiday Stress

It’s important to recognize and take control of triggers that may lead to stress, especially during the holidays. The Mayo Clinic offers many helpful tips to help identify and stress and develop coping skills:

  • Maintain healthy habits — To keep up your energy and spirit, make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating as healthy as possible, and staying active. There’s lots of tempting treats this time of year, so make sure you have a plan.
  • Make a budget — Before you start buying gifts, set a budget that is realistic for what you can afford. Consider presents that allow you and your loved ones to spend time together, rather than lots of material items.
  • Set aside differences — Extra time with family members might mean more tension and the temptation to bring up past disagreements. Try to set boundaries and prepare to accept people as they are. 
  • Take a break — Set aside some time for yourself. While your schedule fills up with celebrations, make sure that you plan some quiet time for yourself or an activity you enjoy. This will give you time to clear your head and relax.

Taking care of yourself will help not only your mental health, but your physical well-being too. The holidays always bring lots of cheer and excitement. By following a de-stressor gameplan, you can give yourself the gift of peace of mind.

Get Help When You Need It

If stress is keeping you from enjoying the holidays or other parts of your life, it might be time to seek professional assistance. Start by talking with your primary care doctor. They may have some tips or advice for you, and they can also refer you to AltaMed Behavioral Health Services.

If you’re not sure if stress is your problem or if you should see a doctor, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at (855) 425-1777. We’ll help you find answers so you can get the care that’s right for you. Take a deep breath…together, we’ve got this.

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Meditate Your Way to Less Stress

Americans are overwhelmed by stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) has called it a “national mental health crisis.”

According to the APA, 27% of Americans experience such intense stress that it impacts their ability to function. Common stressors include inflation, violence, crime, and politics. Meditation is a free and extremely effective way to get your stress in check and put yourself on a path to better physical and mental health.

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Meditation Basics

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. It was originally seen as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the spiritual forces in people’s lives. Today, it’s most often used to reduce stress and relax.

Meditation can help people focus their thoughts to gain perspective on what may be causing them stress. Identifying stressors can then lead to reducing the effect those stressors have on you.

The emotional benefits of meditation can include:

  • Building stress-management skills
  • Fewer negative emotions
  • Focusing on the present
  • Getting perspective on stressful situations
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased patience
  • Increased self-awareness
Meditating Under a Tree

Types of Meditation

The goal of meditation is to help you relax. It can be as simple as sitting in a quiet place and listening to your breath. Other forms can be a little more involved. Here are some examples:

  • Guided meditation — Use your imagination to see places or situations that are relaxing. Try to involve as many senses as you can. There are apps that can help with this form of meditation.
  • Mantra meditation — Repeat, in your mind, a calming word or thought to help you focus.
  • Loving-kindness meditation — Open your mind to feelings of love and compassion both to others and yourself. Try to let go of anger you’ve been holding.
  • Visualization — Try to imagine a scene that invokes happiness and relaxation. Use all five senses to make the visual as real as possible.
  • Movement meditation — Unlike many forms of meditation that rely on stillness, movement meditation is about making small movements at a slow pace, while keeping your mind calm. 
  • Body scan meditation — Try scanning your body for sources of discomfort, tension, or pain. By concentrating on physical areas, you’ll feel more connected to your entire self – not just your mind. 
  • Focus meditation — Devote 100% of your attention on a feeling, a sound, or even an object. Stay present but try to calm your inner thoughts and let the sensations of whatever you’ve chosen to focus on take over.
  • Qi gong — Pronounced CHEE-gung, this form of traditional Chinese medicine combines breathing exercises with movement, meditation, and relaxation. Talk to your doctor before doing any meditation that involves movement.
  • Tai chi — This is a Chinese martial art that combines slow, graceful movement with deep breathing.

Common Elements of Meditation

Each form of meditation has different features however, these are some common elements across all types of meditation:

  • A quiet setting
  • A comfortable position
  • Focused attention
  • Relaxed breathing
  • An open attitude
Grass Meditation

Health Benefits of Meditation

There has been extensive research into the health benefits of meditation. It has been shown to help people dealing with a number of different issues including anxiety, depression, and sleep disruptions.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, here are some health-related topics that include studies on the benefits of meditation.

  1. For cancer patients and survivors — The Society for Integrative Oncology recommends meditation as one way to help reduce the anxiety and stress for people suffering from cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.
  2. Blood pressure — The American Heart Association supports using meditation as a complement to standard treatment to lower blood pressure.
  3. Menopause — Yoga, tai chi, and other meditation techniques have been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flashes, stress, muscle and joint pain, sleep disturbances, and mood changes.
  4. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — Research shows that meditation may help reduce the pain that patients with IBS patients experience.

Meditation vs. Mindfulness

While meditation is a tool that can be used to calm down and improve emotional balance, the root of meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness – separate from meditation – is about living in the ‘now’, rather than dwelling on the future or past. Practicing mindfulness keeps you in the present and helps you accept the emotions or sensations that arise.

Add Meditation to Your Health Regimen

Meditation can be another part of your routine to stay healthy. Add it to your activities, just like you would exercise or eating right. AltaMed can support you in those efforts. We’re here to meet the health needs of you and your entire family — both inside and out.

AltaMed Behavioral Health Services is also there to help you find healthy ways to manage the stress that surrounds us. Call us at (855) 425-1777.

What You Need to Know about PTSD