What is PTS?

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something terrible and scary that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like:

  • Combat exposure

  • Child sexual or physical abuse

  • Terrorist attack

  • Sexual or physical assault

  • Serious accidents, like a car wreck

  • Natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake

During a traumatic event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening around you. Most people have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event; but, not everyone gets PTS. If your reactions don't go away over time and they disrupt your life, you may have PTS.



How does PTS develop?

Most people who go through a trauma have some symptoms at the beginning. Only some will develop PTS over time. It isn't clear why some people develop PTS and others don't.

Whether or not you get PTS depends on many things:

  • How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted

  • If you were injured or lost someone important to you

  • How close you were to the event

  • How strong your reaction was

  • How much you felt in control of events

  • How much help and support you got after the event



What are the symptoms of PTS?

PTS symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTS.

There are four types of symptoms of PTS:

      1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
      You may have bad memories or nightmares. You even may feel like you're going through the event again. This is called a flashback.

      2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
      You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.

      3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
      The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel fear, guilt, or shame. Or, you may not be interested in
      activities you used to enjoy. This is another way to avoid memories.

      4.Feeling keyed up (also called hyper-arousal)
      You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. Or, you may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. This is known as hyper-arousal.


Can children have PTS?

Children can have PTS, too. They may have symptoms described above or other symptoms depending on how old they are. As children get older, their symptoms are more like those of adults. Here are some examples of PTSD symptoms in children:

  • Children age birth to 6 may get upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or suddenly have trouble with toilet training or going to the bathroom.

  • Children age 7 to 11 may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. Some have nightmares or become more irritable or aggressive. They may also want to avoid school or have trouble with school-work or friends.

  • Children age 12 to 18 have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or reckless behaviour like substance abuse or running away.



What to do if triggered?

Breathe in your nose and out of your mouth. Slow your breathing to 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Drink Ice water. Get away from situation you have been triggered in. Distract your mind from the situation that triggered you. Call a close friend or family member.


What other problems do people with PTS experience?

People with PTS may also have other problems. These include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair

  • Depression or anxiety

  • Drinking or drug problems

  • Physical symptoms or chronic pain

  • Employment problems

  • Relationship problems, including divorce


Articles and Fact Sheets

Understanding PTSD: A VA Brochure about understanding PTSD.