Symptoms of PTSD


PTSD and trauma symptoms can vary in intensity over time. You may have more symptoms when you’re stressed in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. For example, you may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences. Or you may see a report on the news about a sexual assault and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.

People react to traumatic experiences in a variety of ways. Some may experience symptoms of trauma which dissipate after a number of weeks. However if symptoms of trauma continue for longer than a month PTSD may be present.

Trauma symptoms vary from person to person, but some examples are:

Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

Avoidance and numbing

  • Work-related or relationship problems
  • Inability to remember important aspect of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Sense of a limited future
  • Feeling numb and empty
  • Avoidance of people and places
  • Feeling isolated
  • Frequent periods of withdrawal into oneself

Re-experiencing the traumatic event

  • Flashbacks (Acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma

 Other common symptoms

Individuals with PTSD almost always have altered cortisol levels, and a prolonged exposure to these increased hormones can cause some unexpected, and very inconvenient physical problems – you can read our blog post ’10 unexpected physical symptoms of PTSD’ here.


Symptoms of PTSD in children and adolescents

In children—especially those who are very young—the symptoms of PTSD can be different than the symptoms in adults. Symptoms in children include:

  • Fear of being separated from parent
  • Losing previously-acquired skills (such as toilet training)
  • Sleep problems and nightmares without recognizable content
  • Somber, compulsive play in which themes or aspects of the trauma are repeated
  • New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma (such as a fear of monsters)
  • Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings
  • Aches and pains with no apparent cause
  • Irritability and aggression

School-aged children (ages 5-12)

These children may not have flashbacks or problems remembering parts of the trauma, the way adults with PTSD often do. Children, though, might put the events of the trauma in the wrong order. They might also think there were signs that the trauma was going to happen. As a result, they think that they will see these signs again before another trauma happens. They think that if they pay attention, they can avoid future traumas.

Children of this age might also show signs of PTSD in their play. They might keep repeating a part of the trauma. These games do not make their worry and distress go away. For example, a child might always want to play shooting games after he sees a school shooting. Children may also fit parts of the trauma into their daily lives. For example, a child might carry a gun to school after seeing a school shooting.

Teens (ages 12-18)

Teens are in between children and adults. Some PTSD symptoms in teens begin to look like those of adults. One difference is that teens are more likely than younger children or adults to show impulsive and aggressive behaviors.


Other affects of trauma on children

Besides PTSD, children and teens that have gone through trauma often have other types of problems. Much of what we know about the effects of trauma on children comes from the research on child sexual abuse. This research shows that sexually abused children often have problems with

  • Fear, worry, sadness, anger, feeling alone and apart from others, feeling as if people are looking down on them, low self-worth, and not being able to trust others
  • Behaviors such as aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol

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