You thought the trauma of your accident, sexual abuse or military tour was over – until it wasn’t. One minute you’re enjoying a nice evening with your friends, then the next the hair on the back of your neck is standing on edge and your heart is pounding. Suddenly, you’re transported back to the traumatic event that has haunted you ever since.
You want to run, but your legs aren’t responding. You’re trapped, reliving the trauma you thought you had moved one from.
This is but a small glimpse of what can happen when you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Episodes like these can be even more challenging when you don’t know what symptoms to expect.
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In this post, we discuss the 17 symptoms of PTSD given by the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-IV), and the mental health support available to help you manage them.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops following a traumatic event and affects an estimated 7.1% of adults nation-wide. Surviving experiences like a car accident, a violent crime or military combat can trigger PTSD symptoms.
You can also struggle with PTSD from an indirect experience where you aren’t the primary victim. For example, you can develop PTSD after learning about the death of a close loved one or witnessing a hostage situation play out on the news.
Many people who undergo a traumatic episode have temporary difficulty adjusting. With time and good self-care, however, they typically get better. If your symptoms worsen, last for months or longer, and interfere with your daily routine, you might be suffering from PTSD.
Everyone’s experience with trauma is different. A car accident that a stranger may not dwell on beyond the incident may haunt you for weeks or months after. Knowing what your symptoms are or could be can help you mitigate them and seek appropriate PTSD treatment.
The 17 Symptoms of PTSD
1. Vivid Flashbacks
A PTSD flashback is when you relive your traumatic experience, and it feels like it is happening all over again right in that moment. These flashbacks can last anywhere from a few seconds to hours at a time.
Nightmares are one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. The unresolved trauma you’re experiencing can play out in your dreams, releasing stress hormones in your body and preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
As you experience flashbacks and lose sleep over the trauma, you may begin to isolate yourself from family, friends and the greater community. Those struggling with PTSD often feel the need to protect themselves from triggers by isolating.
Those who struggle with PTSD can experience depression for weeks, months or years following their traumatic incident. In fact, research suggests half of people suffering from PTSD also struggle with a major depressive disorder.
5. Substance Abuse
It’s common for those suffering from PTSD to develop a substance abuse disorder, as alcohol and drugs can temporarily relieve depression, panic and anxiety. Unfortunately, long-term substance use to cope with PTSD symptoms can lead to addiction.
6. Emotional Avoidance
There are times when just thinking about your trauma is overwhelming. Over time, you might avoid talking about it out of fear that it will trigger flashbacks and negative physical side effects like panic attacks. This mindset increases your risk of becoming more withdrawn from loved ones and friends.
7. Feeling on Edge, or Hyperarousal
PTSD can put you in a constant state of anticipation and fear. As a result, you might be quick to anger and prone to aggressive behavior. Being on edge can be emotionally draining and make it more challenging to cope with other symptoms.
8. Memory Loss
Memory loss can occur following a traumatic event as part of your brain’s defense mechanism since the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are all connected to both stress and memory. If your PTSD goes untreated, traumatic memories may resurface and cause substantial distress.
9. Trouble Concentrating
Anxiety limits your ability to concentrate on daily tasks. For this reason, those who have suffered a traumatic experience often have difficulty readjusting to work and home life since their thoughts are scattered or fixed on what they have endured.
People with PTSD usually experience a period of insomnia caused by an inability to relax sufficiently at night. Unfortunately, some people turn to alcohol or drugs in order to calm down.
11. Negative Outlook on the Present and Future
Having a traumatic experience can change your perspective on the world. This can result in a feeling of hopelessness with an inability to picture future milestones or growing to old age. You may also start to see yourself in a negative light.
Additional PTSD Symptoms
Beyond the seven symptoms already mentioned, 10 other common signs of PTSD include the following:
- Feelings of intense stress caused by reminders of your trauma
- Physical symptoms like pain, sweating and nausea
- Panic attacks and anxiety
- Feeling emotionally numb and struggling to regulate your emotions
- Struggling to show affection towards others
- Trouble maintaining personal and professional relationships
If you or a loved one continue to have problems more than 4 weeks after a traumatic event or the symptoms are especially disturbing, you should seek medical advice.
Learn more if you believe you are suffering from PTSD.
Learn more if you believe a loved one suffers from PTSD.