What PTSD Feels Like and How To Help Someone Suffering From It

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, about 7 or 8 out of a hundred Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. This means that around 8 million adults experience PTSD at any given year within the country.

PTSD results from a traumatic experience such as sexual assault, abuse, accidents, combat, disaster, or witnessing death or injury. Direct exposure to such traumatic events or being the victim of such extreme circumstances makes it more likely for a person to develop the disorder.

What PTSD Feels Like

You know that you are suffering from PTSD when you experience the following:

  • Having specific sounds, smells, views, or feelings that trigger memories of experiences that you’d rather not remember.
  • The feeling of being always on alert—the same sensation you would typically feel when watching a scary movie.
  • Having a sense of bursting out with panic attacks, anxiety, flashbacks, and depression all at once.
  • The feeling of imminent death or danger.
  • Not being able to sleep because you are afraid of your own dreams.
  • Having hyperactive survival instincts and reacting automatically without even thinking or analyzing the situation.
  • Being unable to trust anyone or anything.
  • Being on edge and always walking a tight line of balance where you can quickly lose it.
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen at any minute.
  • Guilt for the way you feel and how you react to healthy and otherwise safe situations.
  • Not having control of your thoughts and every day feels just like that instance that you dread the most.
  • Being stuck at the time of your trauma and seeing the rest of your world move on.

How to help someone who is coping with PTSD

Perhaps you know a friend who suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder. Or maybe you can see your loved one displaying signs and symptoms. Perhaps someone close to you has shared about a traumatic experience that they can’t seem to get over.

How do you help them?

Understand PTSD as a real medical condition

Saying things like “it’s all in your head,” or “it’s been so long, try to get over it,” is not only hurtful and insensitive, but it’s also damaging. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not real. If you do not recognize the condition as a real thing and try to convince the person suffering that it isn’t, they will not be able to seek help for it. 

The first part of solving a mental health issue is to address it. The only way you can treat it is if you acknowledge it in the first place. Being someone who knows about and tries to understand PTSD enables you to be of help to someone going through it.

Recognize signs and symptoms

Some people with PTSD do not even know that they already have it. Loved ones who live with people suffering from it won’t recognize it. On the contrary, they will only see increased agitation and anger that seems to come in outbursts from nowhere. Here are some common symptoms you might recognize:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares
  • Avoiding talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places that remind them of the traumatic event
  • Memory issues surrounding the trauma
  • Depression
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Extreme guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior such as alcohol abuse

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Don’t pressure them into talking

You might think that talking about a problem eases the burden and makes things better. However, for a person with PTSD, talking about it may stimulate unwanted flashbacks of the trauma they endured. That is why you should never force someone to talk about their traumatic ordeal.

Instead, let them know that you are there for them and that they can talk to you whenever they feel like it. In this instance, the comfort mainly comes from feeling accepted and supported instead of the act of expressing itself.

Encourage them to seek professional help

There are many treatment options for PTSD. A patient can freely choose which one he or she is comfortable with. There are group therapy sessions and individualized therapy offered by PTSD experts. Often, you can even combine the two methods to achieve better results.

You may not be able to coerce someone to take the treatment, but offering some encouragement and support could help. Helping them locate treatment facilities near them, or taking and being with them during the sessions if they need you can also help.

Be patient

Going through a traumatic experience, and experiencing mental repercussions from it is not easy. It is not something that just goes away instantly or within a few days. Even with treatment, it could still take a long time to recover. 

Expect that there will be multiple setbacks along the way and that the road to recovery will not be just one straight line. The key to helping someone cope with this condition is managing your expectations and being patient.

Manage your own mental health

If the person suffering from PTSD is a close loved one who lives with you or is a family member, you will automatically feel responsible for their care. Sometimes, the responsibility is so overwhelming that you might forget to take care of yourself too.

Remember that the mental load of caring for someone with the disorder is real too. That is why you should look after your own mental wellbeing in the process. Several PTSD support groups also include family members or significant others. It will help you process your own emotions as you care for your loved one with PTSD and provide you with a community of people going through the same thing.


If you suffer from PTSD yourself, How To Overcome Post-traumatic Stress Disorder And Trauma is one of many counseling and therapy related courses from Skillsuccess. It can help you open new paths to cope and move forward.

Ready to learn more about PTSD and mental health? Click here to get started.

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