Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) includes a cluster of symptoms that begin and persist after a person has survived or in some cases witnessed a severely traumatic or life-threatening event.
In some cases, memories of trauma become difficult to process while anxiety increases, all causing the individual to re-experience the feelings associated with trauma as if it were occurring in the present.
Signs of PTSD can range from flashbacks to nightmares, panic attacks to eating disorders and cognitive delays to lowered verbal memory capacity. Many trauma survivors also encounter substance abuse issues, as they attempt to self-medicate the negative effects of PTSD.
Just as not every trauma survivor will develop PTSD, not every individual with PTSD will develop the same signs and rarely do all 17 exist in one individual.
Experts have created three categories (or “clusters”) of PTSD symptoms, falling into the categories of re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event and responses of hyperarousal. PTSD symptoms will generally persist for at least a month and for many survivors, these signs represent their first struggles with anxiety.
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- Intense feelings of distress when reminded of a tragic event
- Extreme physical reactions to reminders of trauma such as nausea, sweating or a pounding heart
- Invasive, upsetting memories of a tragedy
- Flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening again)
- Nightmares of either frightening things or of the event
- Loss of interest in life and daily activities
- Feeling emotionally numb and detached from other people
- The sense of a not leading a normal life (not having a positive outlook of your future)
- Avoiding certain activities, feelings, thoughts or places that remind you of the tragedy
- Difficulty remembering important aspects of a tragic event
How People Describe their PTSD
A person who describes his or her PTSD may say something similar to these sentences:
- “I don’t want to think (or talk) about it.”
- “I can’t get it out of my head.”
- “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
- “I keep having panic attacks.”
- “I feel like it keeps happening over and over again.”
- “I don’t want to go out/see friends/visit loved ones/participate in activities.”
- “I just feel numb.”
- “My life is not normal anymore.”
- “I can’t remember what happened.”
- “I keep having nightmares.”
Flashbacks and Panic: Signs of Re-experiencing Trauma in PTSD
Everyday occurrences can “trigger” memories of the traumatic event. When the brain becomes reminded of the trauma, survivors of PTSD may re-experience the event itself, as if it were occurring in the present. Flashbacks cause the survivor to have a waking, conscious and often sensory experience of the traumatic episode, usually accompanied by visual or auditory immersions.