PTSD is a mental health condition that develops when one is involved with or witnesses a terrifying and often life threatening event. People respond to terrifying events in many different ways and some are more affected by the event than others. While it is normal to struggle temporarily with coping with a traumatic event, continuing to experience symptoms after months or years is concerning.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

According to experts, symptoms of PTSD may occur immediately following a traumatic event or they may not develop until years after the event due to a trigger. The symptoms that develop affect your life significantly and can impact your work and relationships.

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.

Intrusive Memories

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event (trigger)


Symptoms of avoidance may include:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood

Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions

Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:

  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play or frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event.

Possible Causes of PTSD

PTSD is one of the most complex mental health issues in terms of identifying causation. The cause is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Other risk factors include:

  • Experiencing long-lasting trauma
  • Having experienced childhood abuse
  • Being employed in a job that increases the chances that you will witness traumatic events (e.g. police officer, paramedic, etc.)
  • Being predisposed to other mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression
  • Not having a strong social network

If any of these distressing symptoms are affecting your life, don’t hesitate to contact us for help!