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Signs and Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Carola is a disability advocate with many years of experience working in the disability community. She is also a freelance writer.

Many people experience life-changing trauma in their lives. The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder estimates that approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience a traumatic event. The percentages are higher among military service members.

People process trauma differently. Some people do not suffer ill effects such as PTSD from a traumatic event. People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to suffer PTSD symptoms than others—including those who experienced combat trauma.

For up to 20 percent of these individuals, the event can have a dramatic, permanent effect on their brains and stir up various negative emotions.

The trauma can lead to symptoms such as sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, violence, flashbacks, and a suppressed immune system.

Common Signs of PTSD

Signs that a person may be suffering from PTSD include:

  • Decline in the ability to function at home or at work
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, or memories of the trauma, often when not thinking directly about the event
  • Tendency to avoid anything reminiscent of the trauma, such as certain activities, places, or people
  • Inability to remember important parts of the traumatic incident
  • Feeling estranged and isolated from other people
  • Emotional shutdown and/or difficulty thinking about or planning for the long-term future
  • Feelings of guilt and self-blame for the trauma
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Angry outbursts, irritability
  • Extreme vigilance over safety and/or an extreme startle response
  • Chronic pain or other physical health problems
  • Symptoms persist for more than a month after the trauma

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 20 percent of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq will develop PTSD, but only half will actually seek treatment. When long-term symptoms arise immediately after the event or months later, they are referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder. A traumatic brain injury can also trigger the symptoms of PTSD.

Barriers to Seeking Help

The assumption that the symptoms will go away. Some people think that the symptoms will just go away on their own, so they ignore them. In actuality, their symptoms may continue on for years—and even worsen over time.

Stigma regarding PTSD. People with PTSD can be helped by various types of treatment, but they may be reluctant to seek help. There is a powerful stigma against people with mental illness that keeps people from admitting they are having problems. They fear that people may say negative things about them, treat them differently, or discriminate against them at work.


Feelings of isolation. People with PTSD tend to isolate themselves from others, including loved ones. They should talk to friends, family, religious leaders, and loved ones about their condition. People with PTSD need support on the journey toward recovery.

One of the greatest factors that can prevent or mitigate the development of PTSD after a trauma is social support. Research shows that social support is a more important resilience tool for women than for men. People with PTSD may also fear that others will believe the common myth that someone suffering from from this condision is emotionally unstable or dangerous to others.

Lack of knowledge about where to find help. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of places where Americans with PTSD can find help on their website. Other countries have similar support systems.

Irritability and anger. People with PSTD may experience times of rage and need to take a timeout from the situation. If they give in to anger, they will create more problems for themselves and hinder their recovery. If they blow up at others, they need to talk to the victims of their anger and discuss their feelings with medical professionals. Exercise can help diffuse their anger.

Flashbacks. Flashbacks are feelings that the trauma is occurring again. People with PTSD may also relive the trauma in dreams or nightmares. They can deal with flashbacks by being aware of their surroundings, moving around, and reminding themselves that this experience is common for people who have experienced trauma. People should tell their doctor, counselor, or someone they trust about what they have experienced.

Difficulty focusing. People with PTSD may need to slow down and divide their to-do lists into smaller, doable tasks. The inability to concentrate may be a sign of depression and should be discussed with a doctor or counselor.


Problems sleeping. Some people with PSTD have a difficult time falling or staying asleep. A regular bedtime is beneficial. People with this condition should avoid tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, or heavy exercise several hours before bedtime. If they are worried, they can do something soothing like reading or drinking a warm drink before returning to bed.

Coping Techniques

Pleasant activities. Engaging in pleasant activities, such as art, can have a positive effect on people with PTSD. Positive activities can elevate their mood and help them to rebuild their lives. Work can be beneficial by offering opportunities to learn new things, develop relationships with co-workers, and help people with PTSD regain their confidence in themselves. People with PTSD must be careful not to become workaholics and use this as a way to avoid their memories of the trauma.

Relaxation techniques. Relaxing activities can be very therapeutic. Activities could include:

  • Stretching, yoga, swimming, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises
  • Prayer or meditation
  • Walking and enjoying nature
  • Listening to soothing music

Some people may find that they become distressed when they try to relax because they find the physical sensations of the activity disturbing. They can make short, manageable attempts at relaxation to gradually develop a tolerance for these techniques.

Talking to a doctor or counselor. Talking to a doctor or mental health professional about the trauma and the PTSD symptoms will also help, especially if the symptoms are not lessening with time, are getting worse, or if other coping strategies are not working. A family doctor can refer patients to a specialist in PTSD, if needed.

Medication and therapy. Medication taken under a doctor’s care, as well as therapy, can help reduce anxiety, irritation, and decrease the desire to indulge in substance abuse. Treatment can be effective, even if the trauma occurred a long time ago.

Benefits of Treatment

  • Gaining understanding of the traumatic event by talking to a doctor, specialist in PTSD, or counselor
  • Learning coping skills in order to deal with negative thinking and emotions
  • Regaining relationships with others
  • Providing the ability to set reasonable goals for academic or work activities
  • Managing depression, anger, or other negative emotions

The road to Healing

Recovery is a process that takes time. It is normal to continue to respond to the trauma. As people with PTSD begin to heal, they probably will not forget about the traumatic event. They may still have negative feelings such as anxiety, anger, fear, or pain when thinking about the past. They will, however, have fewer symptoms and will improve over time with proper treatment under the care of a medical professional.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Carola Finch


Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 27, 2013:

Thanks DDE. I, too, have had personal experience with people with PTSD.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 27, 2013:

I know of people with PTSD and had seen their behaviors exactly as you describe it here, people with PTSD can e difficult to understand and cope with.