Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Explains post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

Understanding PTSD

Annabelle blogs about how Mind's information helped her see past her trauma.

Annabelle
Posted on 30/07/2015

My cPTSD diagnosis

Mick tells us about his difficult path to a cPTSD diagnosis (complex post-tramatic stress disorder).

Posted on 25/09/2017

What are the symptoms?

This page covers:

Each person's experience of PTSD is unique to them. You might have experienced a similar type of trauma to someone else, yet be affected in different ways.

Common symptoms of PTSD

These are some common signs and symptoms that you might recognise:

Reliving aspects of what happened

This can include:

  • vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now)
  • intrusive thoughts or images
  • nightmares
  • intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling

Alertness or feeling on edge

This can include:

  • panicking when reminded of the trauma
  • being easily upset or angry
  • extreme alertness, also sometimes called 'hypervigilance'
  • disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep
  • irritability or aggressive behaviour
  • finding it hard to concentrate – including on simple or everyday tasks
  • being jumpy or easily startled
  • self-destructive behaviour or recklessness
  • other symptoms of anxiety

Avoiding feelings or memories

This can include:

  • feeling like you have to keep busy
  • avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma
  • being unable to remember details of what happened
  • feeling emotionally numb or cut off from your feelings
  • feeling physically numb or detached from your body
  • being unable to express affection
  • using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories

Difficult beliefs or feelings

This can include:

  • feeling like you can't trust anyone
  • feeling like nowhere is safe
  • feeling like nobody understands
  • blaming yourself for what happened
  • overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness, guilt or shame

The lack of sleep and the sense of never being at peace are exhausting.

Why does PTSD have physical effects?

This could be because when we feel stressed emotionally, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body’s automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat (sometimes called the 'fight or flight' response).

Studies have shown that someone with PTSD will continue producing these hormones when they're no longer in danger, which is thought to explain some symptoms such as extreme alertness and being easily startled.

I thought I was coping quite well to start with. Then a few weeks after the event, I began experiencing unpleasant physical symptoms, similar to those of a heart attack: chest pain, tightness and dizzy spells so severe that I thought I would pass out [...] my heart was constantly racing and I felt permanently dizzy. I couldn’t leave the house and became afraid of going to sleep as I was convinced I was going to die.

What are flashbacks?

A flashback is a vivid experience in which you relive some aspects of a traumatic event or feel as if it is happening right now. This can sometimes be like watching a video of what happened, but flashbacks do not necessarily involve seeing images, or reliving events from start to finish. You might experience any of the following:

  • seeing full or partial images of what happened
  • noticing sounds, smells or tastes connected to the trauma
  • feeling physical sensations, such as pain or pressure
  • experiencing emotions that you felt during the trauma.

You might notice that particular places, people or situations can trigger a flashback for you, which could be due to them reminding you of the trauma in some way. Or you might find that flashbacks seem to happen at random. Flashbacks can last for just a few seconds, or continue for several hours or even days.

(You can read some tips on how to cope with flashbacks on our page on self-care for PTSD.)

I feel like I’m straddling a timeline where the past is pulling me in one direction and the present another. I see flashes of images and noises burst through, fear comes out of nowhere… my heart races and my breathing is loud and I no longer know where I am.

Other impacts of PTSD

If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, you might also find that you have difficulty with some everyday aspects of your life, such as:

  • looking after yourself
  • holding down a job
  • maintaining friendships or relationships
  • remembering things and making decisions
  • your sex drive
  • coping with change
  • simply enjoying your leisure time.

If you drive you may have to tell the DVLA that you have PTSD. (For more information on your right to drive, including when and how to contact the DVLA, see our legal pages on fitness to drive.)

My behaviour changed and became erratic. I would alternate from wanting to shut myself away and not see or talk to anyone to going out to parties in the middle of the week and staying out late.

PTSD and other mental health problems

It's common to experience other mental health problems alongside PTSD, which could include:

I was also deeply depressed and experiencing huge amounts of anxiety, refusing to go anywhere alone or go near any men that I didn't know… [I] would lock my bedroom windows and barricade my bedroom door at night.

(See our pages on anxiety and panic attackssleep problems, phobias, depression, dissociative disordersself-harm and suicidal feelings for more information on these topics.)


This information was published in May 2017. We will revise it in 2020.


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