PTSD Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that results from experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms for PTSD may begin as soon as three months after the traumatic event occurs, but sometimes you may not start to notice any symptoms until years after the event.

Symptoms for PTSD can vary in intensity over time, and they can also become more or less severe because of periods of stress or if you are around people or things that remind you of the event. The symptoms for this condition are generally grouped into four different types.

Intrusive Memories

Distressful and unwanted memories are a common symptom of trauma reactions, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders. Intrusive memories can be preoccupying and debilitating and even lead to thoughts of suicide. These types of symptoms can include a variety of specific symptoms, such as:

Upsetting dreams that center around the traumatic event
Unwanted and repetitive memories of the traumatic event
Severe emotional or physical reactions to the anything that reminds you of the traumatic event
Having flashbacks of the event, which feels like you are reliving the trauma as if it were happening again


Avoidance is also a common reaction to trauma, since it is natural to want to avoid feeling or thinking about an event that causes you great emotional stress. However, extreme avoidance is not a healthy way to cope, as it can interfere with your emotional healing and recovery. Symptoms of avoidance include:

Avoiding people, places, and activities that remind you of the traumatic event
Avoiding thinking or talking about the event in general

Negative Changes in Mood and Thinking

These types of symptoms are one of the hardest things to manage about PTSD, since it is one of the toughest things for the other people in your life to be able to understand and not take personally. However, negative changes in mood and thinking are something that everyone with PTSD will experience in one way or another, with symptoms including:

  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling hopeless about your future
  • Negative feelings about yourself or others
  • Memory problems, especially with remembering important parts of the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally “numb”
  • Lack of interest in activities or hobbies you once enjoyed

Changes in Emotional Reactions

Also known as arousal symptoms, people who are suffering from PTSD will feel constantly alert after the traumatic event. Increased emotional arousal can cause many problems that can interfere with your everyday life, including:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Always being “on guard” for danger
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Being startled or frightened easily
  • Participating in self-destructive behavior, such as driving too fast or drinking too much
  • Constant irritability
  • Having angry outbursts
  • Exhibiting generally aggressive behavior
  • Experiencing overwhelming shame or guilt

Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon for someone who is experiencing post-traumatic stress. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk with a trained counselor.