PTSD Symptoms You Can't Miss

When someone experiences a traumatic event, there's a chance that they'll develop post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. With this disorder, the person can develop debilitating symptoms that interfere with daily life.

In fact, about a third of those diagnosed with PTSD have attempted suicide, according to some estimates.

Who can develop PTSD?

Most people associate PTSD with veterans. While PTSD does commonly occur in soldiers returning from war, PTSD can happen to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. These events can include (but are not limited to) physical abuse, sexual assault, surviving a natural disaster, or witnessing a horrendous car accident.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Every person is different, which means they can experience PTSD differently. There are, however, some common symptoms of this condition that many experience.

Coming up, we'll go over 13 common symptoms, how to identify them, why PTSD causes them, what they are like, and how they can be managed. The first symptom of PTSD is one of the most well-known...

13. Anger/Agitation

One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is increased anger and agitation.

How is this symptom different from normal irritability?

This symptom does not include mild anger or anger present before PTSD developed. Most of the time, the new feelings of anger will be severe and maybe even scary. The anger can appear at unexpected times, even when everyone is appearing to have fun.

How does this symptom manifest?

A person will typically display random outbursts of intense anger. Importantly, this anger is often completely over the top or out of proportion to whatever triggered the outburst. Sometimes, the affected individual might not even realize that they are even angry or acting in an angry way.

How is this symptom managed?

Anger can be quite hard to manage, so it's important for sufferers to talk to someone and get professional help. Not only can psychiatrists prescribe medication, but they can help sufferers learn how to identify their angry behaviors and techniques for working through them. Sometimes anger management classes may even help.

Unfortunately, PTSD problems aren't relegated strictly to waking hours.

Anger is incredibly common in those diagnosed with PTSD, including the following...

12. Nightmares

One of the most common symptoms of PTSD? Nightmares.

What are the nightmares like?

These nightmares may be about the traumatic event that caused PTSD to develop in the first place. However, they can also be about something completely unrelated. Unfortunately, these dreams can be hard to wake up from and recover from once awakening.

How can someone spot this symptom?

Like many other symptoms, nightmares can be hard to spot when someone isn't personally experiencing them. However, signs of that a loved one is experiencing nightmares might include fatigue or intense discomfort and agitation upon waking up. Restless sleep may also occur.

How are the nightmares managed?

Dreams can be difficult to deal with. The best course of action for recurrent nightmares is to talk to a professional.

Professional help is key.

Talking to a professional is doubly important if the following symptom appears...

11. Depression

People with PTSD commonly develop depressive tendencies.

What is depression?

Depression is more than just "feeling blue." It's a debilitating mental illness that affects millions of adults in the United States every year. Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • Decreased libido
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Guilt
  • Despair and hopelessness
  • Feelings of intense sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Loneliness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Uneasiness

Depression doesn't just affect one group of people, either. This condition can affect people of every gender, sexual orientation, age, racial or ethnic group, and class.

Why does PTSD cause depression?

Many people with PTSD develop depression because they feel "stuck" or like they'll be plagued by PTSD symptoms forever. This prospect can make someone feel hopeless, uninspired, and fearful of the future or even living in the present.

Furthermore, there is a link between depression and sleep. In other words, those with insomnia are more likely than the general population to develop mental health issues like depression. So, those suffering from PTSD may develop depression or experience worsening depression if sleeping disturbances arise.

Knowing about depression is key to spotting it.

Depression can be extremely difficult to spot in other people; after all, some people suffering from depression don't even know that they are depressed! However, some of this can be attributed to the fact that many people don't really know what depression is. In other words, many people are likely to overlook depressive symptoms in themselves or others because they think depression is simply feeling a little sad.

Therefore, the best way to spot depression is to learn its common symptoms and understand that it can happen to anyone.

How is depression managed?

The best way to manage depression varies by individual. Most often, though, people report success from a combination of medication, therapy, getting enough sleep, exercising, and enjoying a healthy diet.

What's most important to remember?

What's most important to remember about depression is that it can be managed. Recovery won't happen overnight and progress isn't typically linear (there will be fluctuating periods of highs and low).

However, talking with a professional about the issue and balancing mood with medications can help make the condition more manageable in the meantime.

Depression often doesn't appear alone.

Closely related to depression is the following sign of PTSD...

10. Intrusive & Negative Thoughts

Intrusive negative thoughts occur quite frequently in those with PTSD.

What are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that are unwelcome thoughts that cause significant emotional distress.

What are negative thoughts?

Negative thoughts are, naturally, pessimistic and cynical in nature.

What are the intrusive/negative thoughts like?

This symptom could manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Bad thoughts about the self
  • Bad thoughts about trusted individuals
  • Not trusting the outside world
  • Becoming suspicious
  • Becoming detached or agitated

How does this symptom develop?

People might feel like the traumatic event was their fault—even if it wasn't. Conversely, they might also feel that the people around them can't be trusted to not do something traumatizing in the future. As a result, they might even have trouble trusting the world in general.

What are some tell-tale signs of this symptom?

This symptom usually goes hand-in-hand with depression. Some tell-tale signs of negative/intrusive thoughts are:

  • Always talking bad about the self
  • Talking bad about others
  • Talking poorly about the world
  • Staying guarded around everyone, even loved ones

How are these thoughts managed?

While negative thoughts may never go away completely, they can be managed so that their severity and frequency decreases. Talking to a professional and potentially getting on medication are often the best ways to manage this symptom.

It's important to talk to a neutral party (.e., a therapist and/or psychiatrist) and not someone who is connected to the traumatic event. This way, this party can talk the sufferer through the traumatic event and help the sufferer understand their responses in an unbiased manner.

Some people resist getting help.

It's important to note, though, that someone dealing with PTSD might be reluctant to open up to others, particularly if the following symptom develops...

9. Detachment

Detachment from others is a symptom that the majority of people with PTSD will end up experiencing at one point or another.

What is detachment?

  • Detachment can mean that others are unable to emotionally connect with others.
  • Detachment also distances someone from their own emotions, which may be painful to manage.
  • At other times, detachment can also means "shutting down." In other words, people may "detach" from the world as a way to cope with their trauma, avoiding situations that trigger flashbacks or other reminders of their trauma.

All in all, detachment is both a result of PTSD as well as an instinctive coping mechanism for dealing with it.

How does PTSD cause detachment?

Many people with PTSD develop detachment out of fear. In other words, they are afraid of how they will look or act in front of others. They don't want to feel judged further after they already feel embarrassed and confused by what's happening to them.

Others develop the condition as a way to avoid dealing with the emotional damage caused by their traumatic event. Whatever the cause, detachment can be a severe PTSD symptom.

How is detachment spotted?

For those on the outside, this symptom is quite easy to spot. The person experiencing PTSD will start pulling away from everyone and have less instances where they actually want to be around people. They might just stop answering calls or give excuses as to why they need to be alone.

How is detachment managed?

The best way to manage this particular symptom? For the sufferer to force themselves to maintain healthy relationships with others. After all, having a support system during these times is crucial to healing.

It's also necessary to attend therapy. At therapy, a therapist can guide the sufferer through their emotions and trauma.

Detachment often goes hand in hand with the following.

Closely related to detachment is the following symptom...

8. Avoidance

While avoidance is similar to detachment, it's not quite the same thing.

How does avoidance manifest?

While some sufferers will avoid people, others will avoid any situation that could lead to them having any kind of negative reaction. These situations could include:

  • Being in places that remind them of where the traumatic event happened
  • Staying away from people who were with them when the event happened
  • Staying away from those that remind them of people involved with the event

How can someone spot avoidance?

It can be hard to spot. Some signs, though, include:

  • Someone constantly making excuses for why they can't go to certain places
  • Someone clearly avoiding certain people, perhaps even those they may have been close to before
  • Not leaving the house/apartment often, if at all

How is this symptom managed?

The best way to manage this symptom is to seek professional help and receive advice on how to best tackle the fears at the heart of the avoidance.

Expect discomfort at any stage.

The following symptom is not only common with PTSD onset, but also may appear during treatment as the sufferer deals with and comes to terms with their trauma...

7. Increased Uneasiness

For those who have PTSD, an extremely common symptom is increased uneasiness.

What is this symptom like?

Increased uneasiness manifests typically as the person being jumpy and "on edge" most of the time. In fact, it may seem like the sufferer is never able to truly be at ease and relax.

Why does this symptom develop?

In short, it's a reaction to the trauma. Specifically, the person may fear that more trauma is right around the corner. So, the sufferer always needs to "be on their guard" in case of such an emergency.

How can someone spot this symptom?

There are a few tell-tale signs of increased uneasiness, including:

  • Constant fidgeting
  • Being easily frightened
  • Being more cautious
  • Being constantly tense

How is this symptom managed?

It's important to remember that the best treatment plan for every individual will vary and it can take time. So, even though it's hard, being patient is key to dealing with this symptom (as well as many other PTSD symptoms). Many people find medications and therapy to be beneficial.

Practicing stress-reduction exercises can also help. These may include walking, yoga, proper breathing techniques, drawing, watching a movie, reading a book, having a cup of warm tea, writing, bird watching, or even meditating.

The following can make dealing with this symptom harder.

It's important to push through slumps, as the following symptom can make treatment particularly difficult...

6. Decreased Motivation

Sometimes, people with this condition will have decreased levels of motivation, even if they were incredibly outgoing and ambitious before.

How does this symptom manifest?

There is no one way to experience PTSD.

  • Many develop sadness or become incredibly upset.
  • Others find that they just don't have the motivation to do daily chores or activities they used to love.
  • Some describe it as having many things to do—and, in some cases, wanting to do many things—but finding themselves simply unable to do what they need to do.

How does PTSD cause decreased motivation?

This symptom can result from fear of not knowing when something will trigger a traumatic flashback or other kind of PTSD flare-up. Others may feel so overwhelmed that they do not believe they can tackle their daily activities successfully, so they don't tackle them at all.

How can someone spot this symptom?

Lack of motivation is relatively easy to spot, thankfully.

  • Those not suffering should notice that their loved one doesn't want to do anything and would rather just stay at home in bed.
  • Conversely, sufferers may have a moment where they realize they don't want to do much of anything.

How is this symptom managed?

Medications and therapy can help, but they alone cannot solve the problem. At the end of the day, the sufferer has to do their best to force themselves to do what they can. When someone can't do everything they wanted, it's important to be kind and patient. PTSD is difficult to live with, and some days simply surviving is more than enough.

The most classic sign of PTSD?

The following symptom is perhaps the most classic, well-known sign of PTSD...

5. Flashbacks

While similar to nightmares, flashbacks aren't the same thing. Nightmares happen while someone is asleep, while flashbacks happen while someone is alert and awake.

What are flashbacks like?

Flashbacks can happen at any time. Most commonly, thought, they are triggered when a situation or person reminds a sufferer of their traumatic event. It could be anything from a loud noise to a place that looks similar to the location of the traumatic event.

When someone is experiencing a flashback, they may also:

  • Panic
  • Stress
  • Faint

Because of how debilitating flashbacks are, many people will try to stay away from situations that are too similar to the traumatic event (hence, avoidance).

How can someone spot flashbacks?

Those not suffering a flashback may notice that their loved one appears "somewhere else" or detached. They may also notice that the person starts panicking and hyperventilating.

How are flashbacks managed?

The best way to manage this symptom is by talking to a professional. They'll have tips and exercises to help sufferers avoid flashbacks as well as what sufferers can do to get through them. Prescription medications may also help. It's important to note, though, that recovery can take a long time, and it might take a while before results show.

Flashbacks often come with other symptoms.

Closely related to flashbacks is the following symptom of not just PTSD, but many other mental illnesses, too...

4. Anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is more than feeling occasionally stressed out. Anxiety refers to intense and constant worries about situations that happen (or may not even happen) every day.

Why does PTSD cause anxiety?

PTSD sufferers might have extreme anxiety about the outside world. Particularly, they may worry about what could happen if they get into a situation that's too similar to their traumatic event.

What are some symptoms of anxiety?

Some symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Increased sweating
  • Shaking
  • Trouble breathing
  • Increased fidgeting
  • Racing thoughts
  • Excessive worry about something that might not even happen
  • Panic attacks
  • Talking rapidly
  • Emotional outbursts

How can someone spot anxiety?

Catching anxiety requires paying close attention to a loved one. Other times, though, anxiety can be easy enough to spot if the PTSD sufferer has a panic attack.

How is anxiety managed?

Medications and therapy can help quite a bit with anxiety. Therapy, especially, can help someone develop effective and healthy coping mechanisms. As far as medications go, it's important to remember that there are many available, so it may take time to find the right drug at the right dosage.

Sometimes PTSD can mean not remembering certain things.

When many people think of PTSD, they think of flashbacks or bouts of anger and irritability. However, there are plenty of other symptoms that can be just as debilitating, including the following...

3. Memory Loss

Memory loss is another common symptom for those suffering from PTSD.

Why does PTSD cause memory loss?

Memory loss can be a coping mechanism for trauma. In other words, people may mentally block out memories of their trauma in order to protect themselves. They might also block out any situations that relate to the traumatic event.

How can someone spot this symptom?

This symptom can be hard to spot if someone doesn't know their loved one experienced a traumatic event.

Conversely, knowing of the event (not necessarily knowing the details) can make it easier to spot memory loss through a simple conversation: The person won't remember the event or be able to give any insight on what happened.

Do not try to trigger the person and/or try to force them to have a flashback. Seek professional medical help for dealing with this symptom.

How is this symptom managed?

To manage this symptom, it's crucial to work with a trained professional. They will have the sufferer go through several exercises in an attempt to remove the mental block. Once removed, the memories can be worked through.

Unblocking techniques won't always work, though; there's a chance that the block will never be removed. However, that doesn't mean someone can still learn to manage their symptoms and live a fulfilling life.

The following symptom can impact all areas of life.

The next symptom of PTSD is more than annoying; it can be downright dangerous...

2. Insomnia

Another common symptom that people with PTSD experience is insomnia. With this condition, someone has difficulties falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and they will report poor sleep quality.

Sleep deprivation is a big deal.

While sleep deprivation might not seem like a big deal, it can have devastating consequences. Besides putting someone at greater risk of an accident, chronic sleeplessness can increase someone's risk of serious medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or stroke.

How can PTSD cause insomnia?

There are a few reasons why insomnia might occur, including:

  • Worrying about or replaying the traumatic memory so vividly and consistently that the sufferer cannot fall asleep
  • Someone deliberately staying up to avoid nightmares
  • Experiencing fear that something bad might happen when asleep
  • Having increased stress releases certain hormones that makes it harder to fall and stay asleep

How can a loved one spot this symptom?

This symptom can be hard to spot without living with the sufferer. There are some classic signs of insomnia, though, that include:

  • Increased tiredness
  • Dark/puffy bags under the eyes
  • Decreased concentration
  • Behavioral changes

How is insomnia managed?

Most of the time, the way to manage this symptom is by practicing good sleep hygiene, which includes:

  • Only using the bed for intimacy and sleep
  • Not using a phone or other light-emitting devices an hour before bedtime
  • Keeping the room one sleeps in cool and dark
  • Avoiding alcohol and large meals right before bedtime
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly (just not too close to bedtime)
  • Managing stress
  • Cutting off caffeine at least 6 hours before anticipated bedtime

When consistent good hygiene practiced over several weeks does not produce desired results, prescription medications may help.

One of the most devastating symptoms of PTSD?

Unfortunately, many people do not understand mental illnesses in general, much less PTSD in particular. That means people rely on the only coping mechanisms they know, which aren't always healthy.

In fact, many times these coping mechanisms mean engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as developing the following...

1. Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, many people with PTSD develop substance abuse problems, which includes issues with drugs and alcohol.

Why do so many people with PTSD develop a substance abuse problem?

Many people don't know other ways to cope with their trauma. So, they turn to something that they think can give them a brief period of escape: drugs and/or alcohol.

Unfortunately, the opposite usually happens.

After all, substance abuse can worsen other symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. In some cases, someone may accidentally (or purposefully) overdose or quite literally drink themselves to death.

What are the signs of substance abuse?

Depending on how well the sufferer hides it, substance abuse can be difficult to spot. Signs to look for include:

  • Drastic personality changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Unexplained marks
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Constantly worried about money or even stealing money
  • A DUI or DWI

How is this symptom managed?

Substance abuse makes PTSD that much harder to treat. After all, instead of having to deal with the event-related trauma alone (which is already difficult enough), the sufferer will also have to work towards becoming sober. In both cases, professional help and a strong support system are necessary.

What's next?

What's most important for those suffering with PTSD (or those with loved ones who suffer) to remember?...

PTSD is debilitating... but it can be managed.

PTSD can be completely debilitating, preventing someone from fully living and enjoying their life.

The first step to treatment?

That means knowing the signs of PTSD is key for recognizing the condition in the first place (either for the self or someone else). After all, getting professional help as soon as possible will lead to the best possible outcomes.

There is hope.

Fortunately, there is hope for those who suffer from PTSD. While someone might never fully "get over" their traumatic event, they can still learn to lessen PTSD symptoms' severity and frequency. The result? Improved quality of life.

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