Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder & C-PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD can have a significant impact on your daily life.
Each person’s experience of PTSD is unique to them and people react to traumatic experiences in a variety of ways: you might have experienced a similar type of trauma to someone else, yet be affected in a different way.
Many people who experience a trauma will experience some symptoms which dissipate after a number of weeks. However if those symptoms continue for longer than a month, and are affecting your day-to-day life, PTSD or C-PTSD may be present. In around 15% of people, there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms even start to appear.
PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. Some people with PTSD learn to ‘manage’ their symptoms and so have long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable, followed by periods where they get worse. Other people have constant severe symptoms, or you may only have symptoms when you’re stressed in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through.
PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms vary from person to person, but these are some common signs and symptoms that you might recognise:
Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD & C-PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event
- Flashbacks—reliving the traumatic event, and feeling like it happening right now including physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating
- Reoccurring memories or nightmares related to the event
- Distressing and intrusive thoughts or images
- Physical sensations like sweating, trembling, pain or feeling sick.
Thoughts and feelings can trigger these symptoms, as well as words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event.
Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD & C-PTSD: avoiding people, emotions or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Feeling that you need to keep yourself busy all the time
- Using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories
- Feeling emotionally numb or cut off from your feelings
- Feeling numb or detached from your body
- Being unable to remember details of the trauma
Avoidance symptoms may cause people to change their routines.
Alertness and Reactivity Symptoms
You may be ‘jittery’, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable.
- Being jumpy and easily startled
- Feeling tense, on guard, or “on edge” – this is called hypervigilance
- Having difficulty concentrating on even simple and everyday tasks
- Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Panic attacks
- Feeling irritable and having angry or aggressive outbursts
- Self-destructive or reckless behaviour
- Aversion or difficulty in tolerating sound
Feeling and Mood Symptoms
The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma.
- Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
- Feeling like you can’t trust anyone
- Distorted thoughts about the trauma that cause feelings of blame and guilt
- Overwhelming negative emotions, such as fear, sadness, anger, guilt, or shame
- Loss of interest in previous activities
- Feeling like nowhere is safe
- Difficulty feeling positive emotions, such as happiness or satisfaction
A diagnosis of C-PTSD includes the same symptoms of PTSD, but also has 3 additional categories of symptoms: difficulties with emotional regulation, an impaired sense of self-worth, and interpersonal problems such as:
- constant issues with keeping a relationship,
- finding it difficult to feel connected to other people,
- constant belief that you are worthless with deep feelings of shame and guilt
- constant and severe emotional dysregulation (you find it difficult to control your emotions).
Why do PTSD & C-PTSD have physical symptoms too?
‘When we feel stressed emotionally, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body’s automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the ‘fight, flight or freeze‘ response.
Studies have shown that someone with PTSD will continue producing these hormones when they’re no longer in danger, which is thought to explain some symptoms such as extreme alertness and being easily startled.
Some people also experience physical symptoms similar to symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches.’
These altered cortisol levels also cause other physical symptoms such as your skin scarring more easily, hair loss, digestive issues, skin issues, and cold hands & feet, find out more in our blog article, ’10 unexpected physical symptoms of PTSD’ here.
When should I get help?
The guidance from the NHS states ‘It’s normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but in most people these improve naturally over a few weeks.
You should visit your GP if you or your child are still having problems about 4 weeks after the traumatic experience, or the symptoms are particularly troublesome.
Your GP will want to discuss your symptoms with you in as much detail as possible.
Your GP can refer you to mental health specialists if they feel you’d benefit from treatment.’
If you’re able to, let them know you have experienced a traumatic event in the recent or distant past and tell them about the symptoms you’ve been having since – it may help to print out this page, and highlight or tick any of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, to help you remember.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.