The Top 10 Questions About PTSD Answered

by Jacqueline Ho Content Producer

How is stress different from post-traumatic stress?

Regular stress can be thought of as the experiences and tensions we have on a daily basis that can potentially lead to anxiety, depression and physical illness. Post-traumatic stress is specific to a trauma, or possibly repeated trauma, and the symptoms will usually include those of regular stress and more besides.


What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress?

The psychological effects of a trauma may be immediate, but commonly do not reveal themselves until weeks or months later. Flashbacks and nightmares are a common symptom. Another common symptom is avoidance and emotional numbing. Here you become more reclusive, preoccupied with distractions like work or hobbies and you avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma.

Depressed child at playground.

Can anyone get PTSD?

Yes. PTSD can affect children as well as adults. What is more difficult to predict is emotional reaction and recovery. The same trauma can affect people in very different ways. Surviving a major incident, like an aircraft crash, may result in an acute stress reaction, which can occur within the first month following trauma. PTSD diagnosis will not be given unless symptoms last for at least one month.

Depressed young woman sitting on stairs.

So if I avoid accidents, wars and disasters I should avoid PTSD?

It’s not so straight forward. From what we know of PTSD it appears that rates are roughly twice as high in women as in men. Genetic vulnerabilities, childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and the type of trauma all contribute towards the risk factors.

Stressed out woman.

Are there different types of PTSD?

There are actually five different types. Normal stress (slide 1), and acute stress reactions (slide 3) comprise the first two types. Acute stress reactions, include symptoms of panic, confusion and sleep disturbances. The 3rd type, Uncomplicated PTSD, involves persistent re-experiencing of the trauma, but if symptoms include those of other mental illnesses (often depression) we reach the 4th type, called Comorbid PTSD. Lastly, Complex PTSD refers to people who experience prolonged trauma, seen especially in cases of childhood sexual abuse.

Woman facing emotional changes.

Can I tell if I have PTSD?

Probably, yes. If you have experienced a traumatic event and you feel your emotions and behaviors have changed as a result you may well be experiencing some or all of the symptoms of PTSD. If you experience flashbacks, nightmares, are numb or emotionally depleted, feel edgy and irritable and are maybe, eating, drinking or using drugs differently, then you would appear to fit the within the criteria.

Woman lying in park listening to music.

I think I may have had PTSD. How can I tell if I've recovered?

If you don't find yourself dwelling on the past trauma at inappropriate times, you don't feel threatened or vulnerable and you can recall the trauma without feeling great distress, the chances are higher that you may have recovered.

Man talking with Doctor about mental health.

I think I have PTSD, what should I do?

You should certainly pay a visit to your doctor and explain your concerns. The assessment and treatment of PTSD is a specialised area but there are things you can do to help yourself too.

Man speaking with therapist.

What are the PTSD treatment options?

Various treatment options are available. Depending on your symptoms these could include medications as well as some form of psychological intervention. At the moment there is no evidence that points to a single form of therapy having superior benefits so treatment is based on personal circumstances and treatment availability and specialisms in your area.

Woman getting back to life running on trail.

What are the PTSD self-help options?

Try to get your life back on track. This means sticking to your regular routines and work patterns. Don't be afraid to talk about your experiences. Take account of the fact that your concentration may not be as sharp so take care when using equipment or driving. If you don't already, add some regular exercise into your life and look to a well balanced and nutritious diet.

Jacqueline Ho
Meet Our Writer
Jacqueline Ho

Jacqueline is a former content producer for HealthCentral. She is a multimedia journalist with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and a master's in Broadcast Journalism and Public Affairs.