Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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:
- 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.
- 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. For example, after a car accident, a person may avoid driving or being in a car.
Arousal and reactivity Symptoms
- 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
- Feeling irritable and having angry or aggressive outbursts
- Self-destructive or reckless behaviour
Cognition and Mood Symptoms
- 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
To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood 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.
It’s worth noting too that a diagnosis of C-PTSD includes the symptoms of PTSD, but also has 3 additional categories of symptoms: difficulties with emotional regulation, an impaired sense of self-worth, and interpersonal problems.
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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.