PTSD symptoms and how to know if you have it

If you have experienced a traumatic event at some point in your life, you may be living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In this article, we'll take a look at what PTSD symptoms are, what to look out for and how to know when to reach out for support.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a treatable anxiety disorder that can develop after you experience or witness any traumatic event that threatens your emotional or physical safety.

Traumatic events can be anything that is extremely overwhelming or shocking, including things such as natural disasters, serious accidents, physical or sexual assault, combat, or other violent events, as well as psychologically painful experiences.

To learn more in-depth about what PTSD is, explore our recent blog: What is PTSD? An in-depth understanding.

Risk factors for developing PTSD

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD.

Whether you develop PTSD after an experience like that is dependent on many different factors, including how old you were when you experienced the trauma, genetic factors, your personality, your coping methods, and how you personally view the traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can be grouped into four categories: reexperiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, physical and behavioural changes, and changes in your mood and thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms can make you feel like you are reliving the traumatic event you experienced.

These symptoms can include:

  • Flashbacks – feeling like you are reliving the traumatic event again, through vivid memories and sensations
  • Nightmares – having disturbing or upsetting dreams about your traumatic experience
  • Intrusive thoughts – unwanted and distressing thoughts and memories about the traumatic event
  • Reactions to triggers – feeling anxious, scared, or angry when reminded of the traumatic event

Avoidance symptoms

Avoidance symptoms can make you want to change your routine or typical behaviours to avoid anything that reminds you of the traumatic event you experienced.

These symptoms can include:

  • Avoiding triggers – avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Emotional numbness – feeling like you are disconnected from your emotions and thoughts
  • Feeling detached from others – feeling like you are disconnected from other people
  • Loss of interest in activities – losing interest in activities you used to enjoy

Physical and behavioural changes

Physical and behavioural changes can make you feel like you are always on high alert, or on edge. These symptoms can include:

  • Feeling on edge – feeling like you are always on guard for danger, and feeling jumpy
  • Irritability and anger – feeling easily irritated or angry
  • Difficulty sleeping – having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating – having trouble focusing on tasks
  • Reckless behaviour – performing reckless behaviours that you wouldn't typically engage in

Mood and cognition symptoms

Mood and cognition symptoms impact the way you feel and think, and can result in thoughts and emotions that you can't control.

These symptoms can include:

  • Negative thoughts – struggling to feel any happy or positive emotions
  • Exaggerated feelings of blame – feeling like you could have prevented the traumatic event and are to blame, or directing blame towards someone else
  • Difficulty remembering the trauma – having trouble remembering details about the traumatic event
  • Loss of interest in activities – losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling detached – feeling disconnected from other people or your surroundings

Management and treatment of PTSD

If you're living with PTSD, there are many extremely effective management and treatment options out there to help you recover, and get back to leading a fulfilling life, on your terms.

In fact, with the right treatment and support, most people recover from PTSD.

Some treatment options, and ways to manage your PTSD symptoms include:

Self-help strategies and lifestyle

Self-help strategies can be a great way to manage your PTSD symptoms.

These strategies can include:

  • Exercise – regular exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety, and your feelings of being on-edge
  • Mindfulness and meditation – practising mindfulness and meditation can help you stay present and cope with intrusive thoughts
  • Journaling – writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you process your emotions and thoughts
  • Support groups – joining a support group can provide you with a safe space to share your experiences and connect with others who are going through similar experiences
  • Regular sleep schedule – getting enough sleep can help improve your overall health and reduce stress
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs – alcohol and drugs can worsen PTSD symptoms and should be avoided
  • Healthy diet – keeping a healthy diet can improve your overall health and wellbeing

Therapy options

Therapy can be a highly effective way to manage PTSD symptoms.

Some therapy options include:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) – CBT can help you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours
  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) – EMDR can help you process traumatic memories and reduce the intensity of your PTSD symptoms
  • Prolonged exposure therapy – prolonged exposure therapy can help you confront and process your traumatic memories
  • Group therapy – group therapy can provide you with a safe space to share your experiences and connect with others who are going through similar struggles


Medications can be used to manage some PTSD symptoms, however it is critical that you only take medication that has been prescribed by your GP or mental health professional.

Some medications that may be prescribed include:

  • Antidepressants, which can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Antianxiety medications, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Prazosin, which can help reduce nightmares and improve sleep

If your GP has prescribed you any medication, it's important that you stick to your treatment plan and continue to take the medication as prescribed, unless otherwise discussed with a healthcare professional.

Other support

Along with medical and psychological support from providers such as GPs, psychologists and counsellors, there are also other supports available to help you through your journey with PTSD.

For over-the-phone support, there are helplines such as Lifeline, SANE Australia, Beyond Blue or Open Arms, which you can call for free, any time of day.

To connect with others who are going through a similar experience to you, you might like to explore SANE Australia's online forums, which are open for anyone to participate in.

If you're having difficulty finding and keeping a fulfilling job that also suits your PTSD symptoms, there is professional support out there that can help, such as APM Disability Employment Services.

No matter what you need, there is support out there to help you manage what you're experiencing, and get you back to living the life you want.

If you think you may be living with PTSD, it's important that you visit your GP as soon as possible so that they can suggest a treatment plan based on your specific situation, and what will be best for you.

PTSD can be a challenging mental health condition to manage, but with the right treatment and support, recovery is extremely possible.