There’s a common perception that most of the change in your life happens in young adulthood. That’s often the period of time when people pursue education, decide a career, marry, move, have children and so on. However, the following period, often called “mid-life” is also fraught with changes— some good and some bad.

Mid-life generally refers to the ages of 35 to 50 and the changes that come during this era can be profound and life-altering. These changes can cause PTSD, or unearth PTSD that hadn’t surfaced previously.

In this article we’ll discuss why PTSD may show up during this phase of life, symptoms of PTSD that are specific to adults and what to do about it. 

What is PTSD?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that occurs in response to an experience of a dangerous or threatening event. Many people live through hardship, but PTSD occurs when negative symptoms and behavior linger long after the event itself.

Why does PTSD show up in adults?

There are two major reasons that PTSD manifests in the mid-life years. The first is due to new traumas that occur during this time frame. For example, a parent may witness their child go through a serious car accident or become the victim of domestic abuse.

The second reason PTSD occurs in adulthood is due to impactful changes that happen during this time, uncovering repressed memories. For example, if a marriage is struggling and a couple begins to fight, it may bring up events from a traumatic childhood, causing adverse reactions.

What are common causes of PTSD in adults?

Many but not all cases of PTSD occur in response to trauma experienced in childhood. PTSD in childhood can be triggered by bullying, witnessing an accident, being the victim of violence or undergoing any form of abuse. PTSD in adults may be prompted by domestic abuse, combat experience, being threatened by violence and traumatic events at work or by memories of childhood trauma.

When symptoms of PTSD in adults start to manifest, it’s easy to look for recent triggers that were significant and terrifying. It’s important to consider that a recent event need not be noteworthy to trigger memories of a more distant trauma.

Unprocessed trauma can resurface following smaller concerns, like a:  

  • Troubled marriage
  • Strained relationship with children or extended family
  • Job loss or career changes
  • Moving
  • Loved ones passing away 

In this sense, PTSD in adults can be complex to untangle. Behavior that seems to be in response to one stimulus may actually be a delayed response to a long-ago trauma. Healing requires addressing both events, and a trained mental health professional can help comb out where to start.

What are symptoms of PTSD in adults?

Symptoms of PTSD in adults fit the four main categories of classic symptoms of PTSD. They are as follows.

  • Intrusive memories: nightmares, flashbacks and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance: sacrificing normal functioning in an effort to avoid people, places and things that bring up memories of the trauma.
  • Negative changes in cognition and mood: an increasingly pessimistic view of oneself, others and the world in general.
  • Changes in emotional and physical symptoms: hypervigilance and changes in normal patterns like sleeping and eating.

What does PTSD in adults look like?

Understanding symptoms of PTSD in adults is different from knowing specific behaviors to notice. Here are some ways you can spot PTSD in midlife:

  • Feeling uncomfortable around close family and friends
  • Worrying about things that would not have been bothersome before
  • Reacting poorly and emotionally to small changes or disturbances
  • Feeling chronically distressed, anxious or depressed
  • Being unable to complete routines that have been established for years
  • Feeling lethargic or disinterested
  • Struggling to maintain close relationships with children, partners and others
  • Self-destructive behaviors like drinking excessively, using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Appearing to zone out or appear lost in thought
  • Being all-consumed by memories of the past
  • Feeling uneasy talking about what’s going on
  • Change up routes, social circles and interests abruptly

These and other changes can all be signs of PTSD in adults. As a general rule of thumb, if a well-established habit or personality trait changes quickly, it may be worth a doctor’s opinion.

How do you address PTSD in midlife adults?

Treating PTSD in a mid-life adult starts with considering the event that triggered a behavioral and emotional change. Whether this event was truly the source of the trauma or what flipped the switch on for a past trauma will be important to meaningful treatment.

Identifying connections between the traumatic event and someone’s personal history is also key. Without the context of personality, family history, relationship dynamics and health factors, healing will be out of reach.

The next stage is all about creating meaningful recovery. Rebuilding security, mending relationships and imbuing purpose into life will help PTSD become a thing of the past.

Put PTSD to rest for good with Silver Ridge Recovery. At Silver Ridge midlife adults can find hope and healing. Programming specifically catered to ages 35 and up can benefit from like-minded peers who are healing from addiction. Call today to see how personalized treatment can make all the difference.