7 Ways to Recognize Post-Traumatic Symptoms

Sometimes referred to as the "Invisible Epidemic" because of the stigma sufferers face in opening up about their experiences, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has approached epidemic levels in recent years, although you might be hard pressed to find public acknowledgment of that fact in many areas of society.

Fortunately, more and more sufferers are coming forward each year to publicly talk about their experience with PTSD and to help in reducing the stigma around discussions of the condition. With each public figure who comes forward to describe their experiences with PTSD, it seems that society moves closer to an understanding of a disorder that affects millions of people the world over.

In more recent times, celebrities such as Lady Gaga have discussed their experiences with PTSD, while famous authors who knew the condition first-hand from their experiences in World War I such as Ernest Hemingway and Wilfred Owen often described the condition in their novels and poetry before PTSD was widely known about or acknowledged.

The good news is that public awareness of PTSD creates new opportunities for research into treatment of the condition, and with that treatment will come more and better solutions to problems that many sufferers face. Indeed, simply learning the basics about the condition may even help sufferers who don't realize that they themselves struggle with PTSD: Here are just seven signs of post-traumatic symptoms, and why a little knowledge about the disorder go a long way towards making progress towards recovery.

  1. Distressing Memories

One of the surest signs of PTSD is the prevalence of distressing, unwanted memories, indicating that a person is unlikely to have felt closure over a traumatic event. A distinctive quality of post-traumatic stress, these memories can also be one of the condition's worst features. Such memories can manifest themselves in the form of flashbacks, in which a sufferer feels themselves to be right back at the point of trauma.

  1. Avoidance of Things that Remind You of Trauma

If you find yourself avoiding places and things that remind you of trauma, it may be a subconscious attempt on your mind's part to avoid the flood of negative feelings that often attend reminders of a traumatic experience. Unfortunately, even seemingly unrelated places or things can serve as triggers for PTSD, meaning that individuals with the condition can begin to feel trapped by the unpredictability of their own minds.

Fortunately, many types of therapy are designed to address negative associations that we may have developed as a result of living with PTSD. Sufferers should also realize that they aren't alone in their experiences: With more than 800,000 people living with PTSD in Australia alone, the condition is one which many people go through.

  1. Negative Thought Patterns

If you've ever experienced the guilt and seemingly ever-present sense of dread that accompanies negative thought patterns, you know that a huge part of the struggle of living with PTSD is simply battling the scourge of destructive thinking that occurs hour by hour. Indeed, when individuals experience negative thought patterns as a result of PTSD, nothing in life seems quite right: Negative thought patterns can take the form of suicidal ideation or unrelenting self-blame, making them extremely destructive or even fatal in their consequences.

The good news is that many mental health professionals specialize in helping sufferers to combat negative thought patterns through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, positive self-talk, and other treatments; if you're experiencing intrusive negative thought patterns, informative websites such as can offer advice on where to seek the right counselor for you.

  1. A Feeling of Hopelessness

PTSD is a condition that often has a comorbidity with clinical depression, meaning that sufferers often struggle with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. These feelings can be overwhelming and often make the future seem bleak. Sufferers often find themselves struggling to even imagine the possibility of a happy future; more often than not, the emotional "deadness" that they feel becomes the lens through which they view life.

  1. Memory Issues

Because the brain often tries to mitigate negative feedback by blocking the emotions and images associated with traumatic experiences out of our conscious mind, a big indication of PTSD is the prevalence of memory issues that a person with the condition experiences. These issues can range from "forgetting" parts of a traumatic event to entirely blocking the event from one's memory. Of course, it is difficult to treat a problem that we aren't aware of, and memory issues often stand in the way of individuals seeking relief from PTSD. Fortunately, mental health professionals can help individuals with PTSD separate a traumatic event from the guilt and shame we often feel around such events.

  1. Physical and Emotional Responses to Triggers

For many people, a physical or emotional response to a trigger (a person, place, thought, or situation that reminds us of a traumatic event) can be downright terrifying. A sufferer may find themselves "reliving" a traumatic event in the form of a flashback, meaning that for all intents and purposes they feel that the trauma is being experienced all over again.

Often, sufferers feel constrained by emotional or financial considerations to remain in triggering environments such as abusive work or living conditions, meaning that each day becomes a struggle against tidal waves of anxiety or terror. With the right treatment, however, we can learn to cope with these overwhelming feelings.

  1. Hypervigilance

Because sufferers from PTSD aren't sure where the next emotional trigger might come from, they often experience a terrible sense of anxiety that the next flood of memories and negative emotions might be just around the corner. This sense of hypervigilance can negatively affect our personal relationships, our ability to work, and even our capacity for basic self-care: It's a terrible cycle that has only recently begun to be understood by mainstream medicine, and society still has much to learn about the terrible fallout that many of sufferers of PTSD experience after a traumatic experience.

For these reasons, a great first step in treating PTSD is to learn the signs of the condition. Too often, sufferers do not seek help because they lack information about what PTSD is and how it affects people. With the right help from a mental health professional, there is a way forward, and life can get better: More and more is being discovered about PTSD each year, and the stigma around discussing the condition is slowly but surely being reduced. And that is cause for optimism indeed!