Lesser-Known Symptoms of PTSD

June is PTSD Awareness Month, an ideal time to explore PTSD beyond common symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares. PTSD affects millions, with subtler symptoms impacting daily life. Discover these lesser-known signs and gain insight into effective treatments and support.

Alyse Thompson, MD By Alyse Thompson, M.D., Medicine
Woman sits on a couch, upset.

Updated on May 30, 2024

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June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, which is an ideal time to take a closer look at PTSD, a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event.

While flashbacks and nightmares are common signs, more subtle symptoms often fly under the radar. These can seriously impact your daily life. This article will help you identify these lesser-known signs and understand their meaning.

Hidden Aspects of PTSD

According to the National Center for PTSD, PTSD affects millions of Americans. Roughly 5 out of every 100 adults (or 5%) experience it in a given year, and 6% will develop it throughout their lives. Women and veterans are at a higher risk for developing this disorder.

But what exactly is trauma? It can be a single, shocking event like a violent attack or natural disaster.  It can also be a series of experiences, such as witnessing combat, childhood abuse, or neglect.

Trauma overwhelms the body’s ability to cope, leaving a lasting emotional mark. This can trigger the most common symptoms of PTSD, like intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, negative beliefs, hyperarousal, angry outbursts, and self-destructive behavior.

However, many other signs can go unnoticed, impacting daily life. Recognizing these lesser-known PTSD symptoms is crucial for getting the right diagnosis and effective treatment.

Cognitive Symptoms

PTSD doesn’t just impact your emotions. It can also disrupt your ability to think clearly. This is due to the overwhelming nature of the traumatic event, which can leave a lasting effect on the brain’s processing abilities. These cognitive symptoms, or thinking difficulties, can leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, depressed, or sad.

Difficulty in Concentration and Memory Problems

Many people with PTSD struggle with concentration and memory issues. Everyday tasks can become challenging, affecting productivity at work or school. You might forget important appointments, lose track of conversations, or misplace items like keys. These memory problems can impact daily life, leading to frustration and additional stress.

Disorientation and Confusion

For people with PTSD, disorientation and confusion can worsen in stressful or unfamiliar settings. Even walking around a new grocery store can cause significant distress. You might feel lost and disoriented, have difficulty concentrating, or struggle to make quick decisions. This can lead to overwhelming emotions like anxiety, affecting your ability to manage everyday tasks.

Emotional and Mood Symptoms

The emotional impact of trauma can turn up in unexpected ways. Some people who have PTSD may have unexplained emotional and mood symptoms.

Persistent Feelings of Guilt or Shame

PTSD often involves persistent feelings that are deeply rooted in a traumatic event. Self-blame can lead to a negative self-image and depression. For example, car accident survivors might blame themselves for the incident. They may believe that they could have prevented it. This guilt can be debilitating, affecting mental health and overall well-being.

Emotional Numbness or Inability to Experience Joy

Emotional numbness can make connecting with others or finding pleasure in once-enjoyed activities difficult. This detachment can strain relationships and slow down personal growth. You might lose interest in hobbies, such as gardening or playing music because they no longer bring joy or satisfaction. You may also lose interest in spending time with loved ones.

Physical Symptoms

The effects of trauma can even cause physical symptoms that can be extremely disruptive.

Unexplained Physical Pain

People with PTSD sometimes experience physical pain like headaches, stomachaches, or backaches, even though there’s no physical injury. This is because stress from trauma can manifest as physical symptoms. By treating the underlying emotional issues linked to the trauma, these aches and pains can often decrease in severity or even disappear completely. So, don’t ignore unexplained pain. It could be a sign of PTSD.

Startling Easily or Exaggerated Startle Response

You might notice that you jump or flinch at sudden noises or movements, even when not in danger. This heightened state of alertness can be exhausting and interfere with day-to-day activities. Real-life scenarios include jumping when a car backfires or flinching when someone unexpectedly enters a room, leading to further anxiety and stress.

Behavioral Changes

People with PTSD often develop coping mechanisms to avoid anything that can remind them of the trauma.

Avoidance of Certain Places or Activities

Some people with PTSD may develop avoidance behaviors. This often involves avoiding places or activities that remind you of the trauma. This can be subtle and not immediately linked to the traumatic event.

For example, you might avoid driving on a particular road where an accident occurred or refrain from watching certain movies. This avoidance can limit experiences and affect your quality of life.

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Sleep problems, such as insomnia or hypersomnia, can also occur in people with PTSD. Unlike nightmares, these sleep issues are unrelated to specific traumatic memories but can still significantly impact well-being. You might stay awake all night due to anxiety or sleep excessively to escape distressing thoughts.

Interpersonal and Social Symptoms

The emotional scars of trauma can make it hard to trust and connect with others. This often leads to difficulties maintaining close relationships and a tendency to withdraw from social activities.

Difficulty Maintaining Close Relationships

Someone with PTSD might struggle with trust and feel unsafe around others. This can lead to conflicts, misunderstandings, and isolation. Difficulty communicating can strain relationships, causing you to push away loved ones out of fear or mistrust.

Withdrawal from Social Activities

People with PTSD may gradually retreat from social life. This can begin with missing occasional gatherings with friends or family members and progress to complete isolation. Signs include declining invitations and finding excuses to avoid social events. Spending more time alone can often worsen feelings of loneliness and depression.

Therapeutic Approaches and Support

The good news is that there is help available for those struggling with PTSD. There are therapeutic approaches that can help identify and manage the lesser-known symptoms of PTSD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and helpful treatment for people with PTSD. It helps you recognize negative thoughts and feelings you might have after a traumatic event.

You’ll learn ways to challenge those thoughts and develop healthier coping mechanisms during CBT. For instance, if you feel guilty about what happened, CBT can help you see things differently and ease some of that guilt.

CBT can help you change the way you think, which can make a big difference in how you manage your emotions and daily life.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a special type of therapy that helps people heal from traumatic memories. During EMDR, you’ll talk about the memory while the therapist guides you through eye movements, tapping, or other back-and-forth motions. This is thought to help your brain process the memory in a healthier way, reducing the emotional pain and negative feelings associated with it.

For example, imagine a terrifying childhood experience that left you afraid of dogs. Through EMDR, you might revisit that memory while following a therapist’s finger movements with your eyes. This dual processing could weaken the memory’s emotional grip, allowing you to feel less anxious around dogs in the future.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a form of psychotherapy specifically designed for PTSD. This 12-week program teaches how to examine and modify the negative thought patterns that began after a traumatic experience. By challenging these unhelpful beliefs, you can change how you feel about the trauma and its impact on your life.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a powerful tool for people struggling with PTSD, especially those avoiding things due to fear or anxiety. This therapy involves gradually re-exposing you to safe versions of trauma-related situations or reminders of the trauma that you’ve been avoiding.

By confronting these fears in a controlled setting with a therapist, you learn to manage your reactions. This helps you decrease your avoidance behaviors and regain control over your life.

For example, if you avoid driving after a car accident, exposure therapy might involve taking short drives with a therapist, gradually increasing the distance and complexity over time.

Support Groups

While evidence-based therapies like CBT, CPT, EMDR, and exposure therapy can help with healing, they’re not the only path to recovery. Support groups and community resources play a crucial role in the healing process.

Connecting with others who understand the challenges of PTSD can be very helpful. Sharing experiences and offering support within a safe group environment can reduce feelings of isolation. A group can also teach valuable coping mechanisms.

Getting Help Early is the Key

The road to healing from trauma is different for everyone. While the path may be challenging, there is hope. By recognizing the lesser-known symptoms of PTSD, seeking professional help, and exploring various treatment options, you can reclaim control of your life.

Grow Therapy is here to support you on this journey. Our team of licensed therapists includes professionals specializing in PTSD treatment. We can equip you with the tools and coping strategies to manage your symptoms, build resilience, and experience lasting well-being. Contact Grow Therapy today and connect with a therapist who can guide you toward a brighter future.


  • Some with PTSD might not recognize symptoms, mistaking them for stress or anxiety. However, others may suspect or even know they have it, especially if symptoms disrupt daily life.

  • The time that it takes to recover from PTSD depends on a lot of factors, such as how severe the symptoms are and the type of treatment received.

  • There's no set recovery timeline for PTSD. It varies depending on the person and their trauma. However, with treatment, many people see improvement within months, and therapy can help manage symptoms long-term.

About the author
Alyse Thompson, MD Alyse Thompson, M.D., Medicine

Alyse Thompson is a physician with over 15 years of comprehensive care experience. She has helped patients manage both physical and mental health concerns, including depression, stress, anxiety, eating disorders, and chronic illnesses.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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