Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Guides & Articles

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical Editor

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in individuals who have witnessed traumatic events or experienced physical, emotional, or sexual trauma. The specific trauma that leads to PTSD can be a one-time event, such as witnessing an accident or experiencing a single act of violence. PTSD can also occur due to ongoing circumstances, such as child abuse or neglect. 

PTSD is a common diagnosis for combat veterans who experienced trauma during wartime. Some additional examples of trauma that can trigger PTSD include spousal abuse; natural disasters, acts of terror; and bullying. PTSD causes people to have terrifying, realistic flashbacks in which they feel they're reliving the traumatic event. 

To receive a PTSD diagnosis, an individual must experience symptoms that cause marked stress for longer than a month, among other diagnostic criteria. (1) Generally speaking PTSD symptoms interfere with the person's daily life, and in some cases, these symptoms are intense. For example, a person with a diagnosis of PTSD due to an assault may have symptoms of intense fear that cause them to avoid social situations, work, or even going outside to prevent a second assault from occurring. 

Trending Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) health guides
PsychGuides independently researches, tests, and reviews products and services which may benefit our readers. Where indicated by "Medically Reviewed by", Healthcare professionals review articles for medical accuracy. If you buy something through our links, or engage with a provider, we may earn a commission.
PTSD and Addiction
in Anxiety

If exposure to a life-threatening event leads to long-term distress, or if your reaction to it becomes chronically and significantly disabling, you might have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people with PTSD may use drugs and alcohol to manage their symptoms and go on to develop addiction. Ideally, people with PTSD and addiction should have […]

Living With: PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder)
in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

You may feel that you are on your own if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic stress disorder. However, PTSD is a common problem and many resources are available for people affected by this anxiety disorder. Approximately 5 percent of people in the United States suffer from PTSD, and 8 percent […]

Don't Face This Alone. Professional Online Therapy Can Help You.

Find The Right Therapist For You Today

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects
in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is brought on by witnessing a terrifying, usually life-threatening, event. Severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts and nightmares are common symptoms of the illness. These symptoms can worsen and last for years, so it is best to seek treatment for PTSD as soon as possible. Are There Different Types of PTSD? Three […]

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment Program Options
in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that affects millions of Americans every year. Government statistics indicate that 3.5 percent of the general population suffers from PTSD. The disorder is strongly associated with soldiers due to the many instances of traumatic events they endure while at war, but the label can be applied to anyone who […]

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Estimates suggest that up to 70 percent of American adults have experienced at least one significant trauma during their lifetimes. Many of those people may subsequently have suffered from an emotional reaction known as posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Further estimates suggest that 5 percent of the population currently lives with PTSD. What Is PTSD? […]

What Is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or complex PTSD, is a condition in which a person experiences post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in conjunction with other physical and emotional symptoms. Complex PTSD is also sometimes referred to as "enduring personality change after catastrophic experience" (EPCACE) or "disorders of extreme distress not otherwise specified" (DESNOS). 

While the origins of complex PTSD aren't fully understood, experts believe that certain people may be at a higher risk of developing the condition than others. Individuals with histories of multiple traumas or abuse by a loved one or family member are particularly at risk. For example, someone who was abused throughout their childhood may be more likely to be diagnosed with complex PTSD than someone who experienced a single traumatic event. 

Emotional flashbacks are also believed to be a common symptom of complex PTSD. During an emotional flashback, an individual may have similar emotions to those they had at the time of the traumatic experience. Waves of anxiety or fear may occur suddenly for seemingly no reason, or the individual might have strong reactions to present events without understanding that the emotions are due to a flashback. (2)

Some potential triggers of complex PTSD include:

  • Witnessing abuse or violence 
  • Kidnapping 
  • Combat trauma
  • Childhood abandonment
  • Sexual assault/rape 

What Is Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is referred to as chronic in individuals who have symptoms that last at least 3 months and the symptoms are distressing enough to interfere with their daily lives. People with PTSD symptoms that last less than 3 months are generally diagnosed with acute PTSD.

While 3 months of symptoms is the diagnostic marker for chronic PTSD, the condition can worsen over time and last for many years in certain individuals, especially if the condition is left untreated. While feelings of fear and anxiety can naturally occur in anyone who witnesses a frightening event, these symptoms are mild and may only last a few weeks. The person fully recovers and therefore wouldn't meet the diagnosis criteria for PTSD. (3)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms 

PTSD symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on the underlying cause of their specific trauma. Individuals with complex PTSD typically exhibit additional symptoms.

Some common post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and behaviors include:

  • Intense emotions and feelings specifically related to past trauma
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Upsetting flashbacks when reminded of past trauma
  • Fearful reactions when exposed to loud noises or physical touch
  • Inability to recall certain memories related to trauma (4)

Some common symptoms of complex PTSD include:

  • Constant feelings of distrust
  • Physical symptoms, such as stomach pain and headaches
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Feelings of detachment or feeling "outside" of one's own self
  • Hyperarousal or hypervigilance—always being "on guard" (5)
  • Physical symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness, when remembering the traumatic incident 

What Are the Treatment Options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? 

Psychotherapy and medications are common post-traumatic stress disorder treatment options. Psychotherapy options include exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive/talk therapy. Prescribed medications may include antidepressants and antianxiety drugs for individuals with depression, anxiety and sleep problems, and drugs such as prazosin to help potentially reduce PTSD-related nightmares. 

Exposure therapy allows individuals to face distressing thoughts, flashbacks, and memories in the safety of a therapist's office. This treatment can help trauma victims process their feelings and learn important coping skills. EMDR uses guided eye movements in conjunction with exposure therapy. This type of therapy may help sufferers learn new ways to process their trauma and react to memories with less stress and anxiety. (6)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for PTSD. This type of talk therapy allows patients to work with licensed therapists who help them address the strong emotions, anxiety, and feelings of fear and helplessness that often accompany a PTSD diagnosis. During a CBT session, a therapist or psychotherapist teaches the patient how to recognize negative thought patterns and how to react to those thoughts in a positive, effective way. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help those who struggle with PTSD or complex PTSD react differently when triggered by distressing memories or fears by teaching them how to identify their triggers. CBT is sometimes combined with other types of therapy and/or medications. While results can vary depending on the extent of an individual's PTSD symptoms, CBT may aid in preventing relapsing mental illness symptoms and help patients completely recover from past trauma. (7)

How to Cope With a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosis 

While PTSD can be challenging for victims of trauma, the good news is that cognitive behavioral therapy, self-care, and medications are beneficial coping tools that can positively contribute to recovery. By committing to treatment and being patient with themselves, an individual with PTSD can learn to cope with their diagnosis and manage symptoms.

Self-care practices, such as taking outdoor walks, reciting daily affirmations, and making regular visits to the beauty salon or barbershop are also helpful. These simple activities can allow people with PTSD to learn to appreciate the little things in life and to be mindful and stay present as they navigate life post-trauma. 

How to Help Someone Diagnosed With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Throughout their recovery process, people diagnosed with PTSD may struggle with trusting others and being open and intimate with friends and partners while respecting boundaries.

Family members, spouses, and partners can help individuals through their PTSD recovery journey by accompanying them to PTSD support groups and/or attending family therapy sessions. Keeping the lines of communication open via phone call, email, or text is another great way to show those with PTSD that they're not alone.


  6. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic