The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals but generally fall into the categories described below.
Re-experiencing: Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event in the form of:
- repetitive and distressing images or sensations
- physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling
Some people have constant negative thoughts about their experience, repeatedly asking themselves questions that prevent them from coming to terms with the event.
For example, they may wonder why the event happened to them and if they could have done anything to stop it, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.
Avoidance and Emotional Numbing: Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD. This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.
Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their minds, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.
Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing.
This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy.
Hyperarousal (feeling ‘on edge’): Someone with PTSD may be very anxious and find it difficult to relax. They may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This state of mind is known as hyperarousal.
Hyperarousal often leads to:
- angry outbursts
- sleeping problems (insomnia)
- difficulty concentrating
Other problems: Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including:
- other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or phobias
- self-harming or destructive behavior, such as drug misuse or alcohol misuse
- other physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains, and stomach aches
PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.