How Do I Know If I Have PTSD?

After a trauma, it is very common to experience at least some post-traumatic symptoms.  It is normal, for example, to feel frightened, disconnected, or numb. You may have bad dreams or persistent and anxious thoughts about the experience. You even might notice that you feel sad, irritable or on-edge. However, after a period of time, these symptoms will lessen or subside. If they do not, or if they get worse, it is possible that you may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a frightening, dangerous or life-threatening event, such as a bad accident, war, or a violent crime.  According to the American Psychiatric Association, if you have been exposed to certain traumatic events, and then experience some of the symptoms listed below for more than one month, you may have PTSD.

While many people develop PTSD after a trauma, many do not.  Some people, for example, begin to feel better, calmer or more themselves several weeks after a traumatic event. Others may continue to struggle or might find it difficult to feel normal again, but still they do not develop full-blown PTSD.  That said, this does mean that their lingering symptoms are not difficult, painful, and life impacting. In either case, it is important to get help for traumatic stress.

What can trigger PTSD or traumatic stress symptoms?

Any frightening, shocking or life threatening experience that makes you feel helpless or overwhelmed can be a trauma. And, any trauma can trigger symptoms. Generally, however, PTSD follows traumatic experiences such as:

•  Loss or serious illness of a loved one

•  A near death experience

•  Car accidents and plane crashes

•  Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, fires or hurricanes

•  Violent or sexual crimes

•  War or combat

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can emerge gradually over time, or they can be triggered more suddenly, perhaps by a reminder of the event. Sometimes, symptoms appear within months of the experience and other times they may take years to manifest.

The symptoms of PTSD tend to fall into four areas:

1.  Intrusive memories

2.  Changes in thinking or mood

3.  Changes in emotional reactivity

4.  Avoidance


What does this all mean? If you have symptoms of PTSD or post-traumatic stress, you likely will experience some of the following:

•  Flashbacks, or reliving the event as if it were happening in the present
•  Persistent, unwanted memories of the event
•  Nightmares about the experience
•  Difficulty concentrating or remember things
•  Difficulty falling or staying sleeping
•  Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (rapid heart beat, rapid breathing, nausea, sweating)

You also may find that you:

•  Feel depressed and hopeless about the future
•  Feel negative, irritable or angry
•  Experience unexplained physical aches and pains
•  Engage in reckless behavior
•  Startle or frighten easily
•  Operate on “high-alert”—always looking out for danger
•  Avoid thinking or talking about the event
•  Avoid people or places associated with the experience
•  Disconnect from those around you

Can children experience post-traumatic stress?

Yes, children can develop PTSD or experience the symptoms of PTSD. Though, some of the symptoms experienced by children are unique from adults. Take notice if your child begins to behave differently, especially after a traumatic experience.

Some of the symptoms of PTSD in children include:

•  Worry about being separated from parent or caregiver
•  Disruptions in sleep or nightmares
•  Stomach aches or other aches and pains
•  Refusal to play with friends
•  Acting out of trauma through play

If you or someone you love has gone through a traumatic event and is experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, help is available. You do not have to live with traumatic stress, and you can begin to heal from your painful and frightening experiences.