Table of Contents
- Repeated, upsetting and disturbing memories, thoughts, or images of a stressful experience from the past
- Suddenly acting or feeling as if a stressful experience were happening again (as if you were reliving it)
- Sleep trouble and repeated, disturbing dreams of a stressful experience from the past
- Trouble remembering important parts of a stressful experience from the past
- Having physical reactions (e.g., heart pounding, trouble breathing, or sweating) when something reminds you of a stressful experience from the past
- Substance abuse and unhealthy lifestyle choices
Repeated, upsetting and disturbing memories, thoughts, or images of a stressful experience from the past
This could be triggered via any of your senses. A particular place, person or scent could bring back painful memories or thoughts of a traumatic event from the past. Often people with PTSD will avoid thinking or talking about a stressful experience from the past and avoid situations or activities where this is a risk. Often, those with PTSD will tend to keep themselves busy with a number of tasks to distract themselves from thinking about a stressful or traumatic memory.
Suddenly acting or feeling as if a stressful experience were happening again (as if you were reliving it)
This is often referred to as a ‘flashback’. This is different to a disturbing memory of the past, as the sufferer actually feels as if they have been transported back in time and are reliving the moment in intense and vivid detail. This is often characterized in film using the examples of war veterans reliving a traumatic experience but flashbacks can also occur going back to early childhood memories. We may have a strong emotional memory at the time that is only brought to our conscious mind by a cue or reminder in our environment.
Sleep trouble and repeated, disturbing dreams of a stressful experience from the past
PTSD causes increased arousal of the senses, leading to a heightened feeling of anxiety. There are also theories suggesting that serotonin levels (an important chemical that can help regulate emotion and sleep) are affected in PTSD sufferers. This leads to difficulties in falling or staying asleep and in more severe cases, insomnia. It is estimated that more than 70% of people with PTSD suffer from nightmares up to several times a week.
Trouble remembering important parts of a stressful experience from the past
PTSD does not always manifest itself in the same way. In fact, some PTSD sufferers may recall very little of the details of a traumatic event while still feeling extreme distress. This is referred to as psychogenic amnesia and to be more exact, situation-specific amnesia, which affects an individual’s ability to recall specific episodes from their life but leaving the rest of their memory relatively intact.
PTSD sufferers may be jumpier and easily startled in general and may have prolonged periods where they feel hyper-alert and watchful. Feelings of fear and anxiety provoke this physical reaction but often this leads to exhaustion later on when the adrenaline fades. However, those with PTSD have an increased ‘fight or flight’ response and their bodies are producing excess amounts of cortisol and adrenaline in times that they are not in danger. This helps to explain the alertness and jumpiness Another consequence of this is a great difficulty in concentrating for sustained periods of time from a combination of energy levels and scattered attention.
Having physical reactions (e.g., heart pounding, trouble breathing, or sweating) when something reminds you of a stressful experience from the past
This may also take the form of headaches, excessive sweating, and feelings of faintness. As well as these physical reactions in the moment, PTSD sufferers have a number of long term physical health concerns. They may be more at risk of heart, respiratory and digestive problems. Although PTSD itself is not the root cause of these physical health issues, it can lead to these through a combination of factors.
Substance abuse and unhealthy lifestyle choices
A lack of sleep, sustained levels of anxiety, poor diet and increased levels of substance abuse all play a factor in contributing to longer-term health problems. These all lead to a weakened immune system and could exacerbate any pre-existing or underlying conditions. PTSD sufferers are at particular risk of developing substance abuse problems, turning to alcohol or recreational drugs to create a numbing and sedative effect and to ease the pain they are suffering. Data suggests that over half of all PTSD sufferers could also be battling drug or alcohol addiction.
Coping with PTSD is extraordinarily challenging and can inevitably take its toll on someone’s mental health. They may find themselves suffering from depression and as such, they may lose interest in things that they used to enjoy. They may cut off people around them and have a sense of emotional numbness which makes it difficult to connect with those close to them. Overall energy levels will tend to be low.
A common misconception about PTSD is that all sufferers will lash out at others and experience anger episodes. This is unusual and most PTSD sufferers tend to withdraw themselves from social situations instead. However, there is a link between trauma experienced and strong underlying feelings of anger. This stems from feelings that what has been experienced is unfair or unjust and is difficult to make sense of.
Please remember: This information does not give a diagnosis
The information in this article is based on a variety of checklists that are given to patients who can self-report their symptoms and is based on the criteria for the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) version 5 manual. It is intended as a guide and to give an idea about the likelihood of a PTSD diagnosis. However, even if you feel you suffer from all the symptoms listed above, the information here does not constitute a diagnosis. It is highly recommended to speak to a doctor who will be able to refer you to a specialist who can best advise you on treatment options.