Trauma: 10 Symptoms of PTSD

By on August 17, 2016
post traumatic stress disorder hypervigilant

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that affects someone who has been exposed to a situation where they felt their life was in danger.

In another scenario, a person may have been exposed to a horrific event that is outside of normal human experience.

PTSD was first noticed in soldiers during World War I, though at the time it was given the name “shell shock”.

Soldiers returned home with symptoms related to being on the battlefield and witnessing terrible things.

Not everyone who goes through a terrible situation will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  For some reason, there are people who appear to be more resilient and tolerant of being exposed to horrible events.

It’s worth pointing out that the symptoms of PTSD must create significant distress or decreased ability to function in order for it to be classified as a disorder.

An example of PTSD significantly interfering with someone’s functioning would be when a person has such difficulty concentrating on work due to distraction that he isn’t able to fulfill his job duties. Another person may have increased tension or conflict in an important relationship due to an increase in irritability.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Common signs and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder include the following, though not all have to be present in order for someone to be diagnosed with the condition.

Intrusive thoughts

nighmare PTSDThose suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can have what are referred to as “intrusive thoughts”.  These are unwanted and a person has no control over when they choose to pop into their consciousness.

Experiencing these uncontrollable thoughts can make the person feel haunted by the original trauma and create significant anxiety as a result.



Nightmares are a very common symptom experienced by victims of trauma. The dreams may appear in the form of reliving the details of the event or of something related to the event. Sometimes the dreadful dreams don’t even seem related to the traumatic event but they still cause extreme distress for the person.


Flashbacks are the experience of reliving the disturbing experience.  It’s different from simply having a memory of the event. It actually feels as though the person is back in the very situation where they felt terrified and powerless.  They may dissociate, which means to mentally detach from the present.  If you are with someone who is having a flashback, it may seem as though they are in a trance state.

Efforts to avoid feelings and thoughts related to the traumatic event

People suffering from the effects of trauma may refuse to talk about what happened, as remembering is too horrifying.  It’s common for a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to push thoughts out of their mind.

They will likely avoid returning to the location where the event occurred.  Avoiding feelings that were present around the event is similar to avoiding thoughts.  This is understandable, as the feelings will be too overwhelming and scary for the person to face.

Feeling detached or unable to connect with loved ones

Because of dissociation, depersonalization, and detachment which are all symptoms of anxiety, a person coping with the results of trauma may seem like a different person. It may feel difficult to get close to them.

Depression and hopelessness

Symptoms of depression such as hopelessness and helplessness may follow after the traumatic event. The experience of being victimized leaves a person feeling powerless and vulnerable. If their symptoms are severe, they may feel as though nothing will help and they will never feel normal again.

Feelings of guilt

(from the false belief that you were responsible for the traumatic incident) While it may seem absurd that someone feel guilty for being the victim of a crime, this is more common than you would think.  The guilt represents regret for making what the victim considers a poor choice.  “If I had only left the party earlier, I wouldn’t have crossed paths with him (the culprit)…”

Irritability or angry outbursts

Irritability may be present because of decreased tolerance with frustration.  Think about how many feelings and overwhelming thoughts a person with PTSD is having to cope with. Also, insomnia is a common symptom and someone who sleeps poorly will have less patients dealing with people and everyday situations.

Disrupted sleep and  insomnia

In addition to nightmares, insomnia is a common response to trauma.  It could be the person can’t avoid intrusive thoughts.  They may feel more vulnerable at night.  The trauma may have occurred at night. Nightmares may wake them.

At night when things are usually quiet, there are fewer things to distract us from our thoughts. Also, during the time frame between being awake and falling asleep, we have fewer mental defenses and are more vulnerable to unwanted thoughts cropping up.


man hypervigilantTrauma survivors will likely be on guard for danger.  It’s likely this result of trauma served humans back when we had to be vigilant of beasts who might attack, but in today’s society there is no such threat.

Still, after being traumatized, people commonly feel on edge and super aware of their surroundings, as if to be prepared if a threat presents itself.

Physical reactions to stimuli

Intrusive thoughts, smells or sensations that remind a person of the event will trigger automatic physical reactions. Some of these may include racing heart, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or any of a multitude of unpleasant physical symptoms of anxiety.

Do you know anyone you suspect is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?  Do you experience some of these symptoms?  There is help available.  Individual and group therapy can address the condition and alleviate the symptoms through talk, learning relaxation exercises, and problem solving to confront the affects these symptoms are having on yours and your loved ones’ lives.

See links to online resources below:


For victims of sexual abuse/assault:


For veterans:


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