Signs & Symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. Signs of PTSD typically fall into four broad categories: experiencing intrusive memories, practicing avoidance, facing increased arousal and reactivity, and experiencing negative changes in cognition and mood.

  • Intrusive memories may include reliving the traumatic event in flashbacks, having nightmares about the traumatic event, and/or experiencing recurrent, upsetting memories of the event.
  • Avoidance may mean avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event as well as any people or places that are reminders of the event.
  • Increased arousal and reactivity may include feeling tense, being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, being irritable, or being constantly vigilant of your surroundings.
  • Negative changes in cognition and mood may include frequent trouble remembering key parts of the traumatic event, pessimistic thoughts, distorted feelings like guilt and blame, and loss of interest in your hobbies.

While it may not be uncommon for someone like a veteran to experience any one of these symptoms occasionally, PTSD is typically diagnosed only when an individual’s symptoms are present and persist for longer than a month. 

While untreated PTSD can last for months or years after the trauma, thanks to the following treatments, people often don’t have to live with PTSD forever.

PTSD Treatment Options

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT, often referred to as “talk therapy,” involves talking through your experiences and feelings, and practicing alternative ways of thinking and behaving in response. Research has suggested that CBT may be best suited for people experiencing anxiety, general stress, anger control problems and bulimia. Some studies indicate that about 75% of people who try this treatment experience some benefit. One study found, however, that nonresponse to CBT can reach as high as  around half of those with PTSD engaging with such talk therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):

EMDR was first developed in 1987 as a way to help treat PTSD. According to Cleveland Clinic, it involves “moving your eyes a specific way while you process traumatic memories,” under the supervision of a licensed therapist. EMDR aims to use both sides of the brain simultaneously to promote greater communication between them (including the sections that involve your memories and senses). Studies show that up to 77% of combat veterans are free of PTSD in only 12 EMDR sessions — and EMDR is now recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.  

If you are considering EMDR, here’s a list of therapists trained in EMDR. Please consult your doctor before beginning any treatment.

Prolonged Exposure (PE):

Prolonged exposure therapy, or PE, was developed to help people with pathological anxiety confront fears or traumas gradually. It generally involves being exposed to the trauma either by imagining it vividly, and being guided by a clinician through healthy coping mechanisms, or by being actually exposed to the feared or traumatic situation in a somewhat controlled setting. One study showed that in a group of 119 veterans who have both PTSD and an alcohol use disorder, the veterans given PE experienced a decrease in PTSD symptoms and fewer days of heavy drinking, and that 22% experienced PTSD remission immediately after treatment. The numbers also suggest that the benefits continued to increase after treatment ends: the study found that after three months after treatment, 25% of PE participants were in PTSD remission.

If you are considering PE, here’s a directory of trained PE providers. Please consult your doctor before beginning any treatment.

Medications:

If medication is needed, the most commonly prescribed for use are anti-depressants and blood pressure medicines. Each medication prescribed generally focuses on a different feature of PTSD, so it’s important to be clear and transparent with your doctor in describing your particular symptoms.

Alternative Therapies:

A 2018 study evaluated the effects of military-tailored yoga for a group of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The group participated weekly in an hour-long yoga session lead by a fellow veteran who incorporated a trauma-sensitive, military-culture informed approach with Vinyasa-style yoga. After six weeks of sessions, participants reported decreases in hypervigilance, intrusive memories and avoiding triggers, as well as decreased insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Participants also showed improved mindfulness after only six weeks of yoga treatment.

Veterans Affairs Resources

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers many PTSD resources on its site, including:

You can also learn about:

Whatever steps you decide to take to deal with your PTSD, don’t suffer in silence.

To help veterans in your area, check out our round-up of veterans charities here.

The above content is shared for educational and informational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise or fitness program, taking any additional or discontinuing any existing medications, or acting on any content on this website, especially if you have a medical condition. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.


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