The Four Types of Symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that develops in some people “who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It is widely believed that PTSD is reserved for veterans who survived traumatic experiences during wartime, but PTSD can happen to anyone. Even those who did not directly experience a trauma, but had witnessed a life-threatening event may experience symptoms of this disorder.

Although each person may experience symptoms differently, there are four main types to be aware of: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, cognitive symptoms, and hyperarousal (reactivity) symptoms.

Re-experiencing Symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms are those that make you feel as though you are reliving the event. Flashbacks, nightmares and bad memories are examples of re-experiencing symptoms. These symptoms, particularly flashbacks, can also have physical effects such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. According to the NIMH, “Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing symptoms.”

Avoidance Symptoms

Avoiding certain places, people and situations that trigger bad memories is common when experiencing these symptoms. One may also avoid thinking about or discussing the event and may change their daily routine for this reason. For example, someone who was mugged while walking home from work may choose to avoid their usual route, or change their transportation method to driving.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms include having negative thoughts about oneself or the world. According to the National Center for PTSD, those experiencing cognitive symptoms may have difficulty trusting people and may find it hard to feel happy. They may have trouble recalling important aspects of the event and they may feel guilt or blame.

Hyperarousal (Reactivity) Symptoms

Instead of being triggered by a particular person or situation, arousal symptoms are constant. This can include feeling stressed, angry, and jumpy or easily startled. A person experiencing these reactivity symptoms may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. He or she may also start to participate in unhealthy or risky behaviors such as smoking, using alcohol or driving irresponsibly.

Feeling fear during or after a traumatic situation is normal. However, those who continue to experience symptoms for more than a month, or those who feel their symptoms are affecting their relationships and daily routines may be diagnosed with PTSD. It is important to keep in mind that these symptoms must be caused by the event itself, and are separate from any symptoms one may experience due to substance abuse, mental illness or any other reason.

If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, contact our Access Center at 1-800-300-0628 to talk to a clinician and get help.