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What Does a PTSD Attack Feel Like and What Can You Do About It?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects around six percent of adults at some point in their lives.

If you think you or someone near you is experiencing PTSD symptoms, you might be wondering, “What does a PTSD attack feel like?

Support, time, and care help people with PTSD better manage their symptoms.

However, before you can offer those to a friend or loved one, it’s a good idea to learn about PTSD attacks first.

What Is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental condition that develops in a person after exposure to trauma.

People who go through a traumatic event may develop temporary symptoms of anxiety and flashbacks.

However, if these symptoms do not get better with time and last for months or years, interfering with the person’s daily life, they may have PTSD.

People with PTSD may also develop other mental conditions, such as panic attacks, acute stress disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and social engagement disorder.

Physical symptoms are also common among PTSD survivors, including chest pain, nausea, fast heart rate, lack of sleep, shortness of breath, and physical sensations.

What Are the Main Causes of PTSD?

The leading causes of PTSD include traumatic events, such as:

  • Childhood abuse
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Severe injury
  • Accident
  • Mass shootings
  • Near-death experience
  • Natural disasters

Military veterans may also develop PTSD during active duties, where violent deaths are routine.

Note that some people may perceive themselves in danger without actually being threatened and still develop PTSD symptoms.

What Does a PTSD Attack Feel Like?

PTSD attack symptoms may vary for different people; many even go asymptomatic for years.

Most people with PTSD experience some or all of these symptoms during an attack.

Two categories of PTSD symptoms (psychological and physical) manifest continuously or during an attack.

Psychological Symptoms of PTSD

In the case of severe PTSD, psychological symptoms disable a person from performing even routine functions. These include:


Flashbacks and distressing memories are common symptoms of PTSD where a person constantly gets flashes of the violent incident.

Flashbacks may occur spontaneously or upon the sight of the incident.

Such distressing memories may also include the recreation of the incident in the person’s mind.

In severe cases, hallucinations may occur, limiting his ability to function correctly.

During an attack, flashbacks lead to physical symptoms that trigger depression and anxiety and may result in self-destructive behaviors.

what does a ptsd attack feel like

Severe Anxiety

People with PTSD may develop social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, or experience panic attacks.

While post-traumatic stress disorder is no longer classified as an anxiety disorder, the symptoms and effects induce anxiety.

During an attack, a person may experience sweating, dehydration, dry mouth, and nausea.

Feelings of helplessness and loss of concentration also occur in many people with severe PTSD.

Arousal Symptoms

Hyperarousal symptoms are common during an attack where a person feels restless and in continuous danger.

As you can imagine, intense arousal symptoms may disable a person from relaxing and getting quality sleep, making them exhausted.

Even the slightest noise or disturbance may frighten them, as the mind triggers a fight-or-flight mechanism.


Nightmares occur after a traumatic event for many people but go away after a while. However, in PTSD, the nightmares are continuous and are more violent.

Different people experience nightmares with varying intensities and frequencies.

Secondary effects of nightmares include fatigue, pain, and a lack of interest in life activities.

Avoidance Symptoms

During a PTSD episode, people tend to avoid social gatherings, contact with others, and feel a lack of interest in everything.

They also try to forget the incident and avoid thinking about anything even remotely associated with the accident.

Sharing with a loved one helps during the PTSD episode. The problem is that PTSD stops people from talking about the incident, increasing stress.

Avoidance symptoms may develop after the trauma but can also start even after a long time has passed.

Intrusive Memories

People experiencing a PTSD panic attack become more sensitive and get intrusive memories of the accident or from their past.

Intrusive memories may seem regular at first but then develop into a web of thoughts, spiraling out of control.

People with prior history of trauma experience severe intrusive memories compared to those with a single incident.

What’s more, hypersensitivity makes those memories vivid and causes stress and depression if treatment is unavailable.

Excessive Negative Thoughts

People traumatized by another person become distrustful and develop negative feelings about others.

Negative thoughts also set in after a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, and people tend to avoid different places for fear of being attacked again.

Excessive negative feelings and thoughts create difficulties and require constant care before the trust restores.

Reactive Behavior

Reactive and erratic behavior is another PTSD symptom that makes people lose rational decision-making.

Reactive attachment disorder is also common, especially in children who suffer from sexual or emotional abuse.

RAD makes it difficult to manage emotions, and people generally lack interest in bonding with others as a result.

Moreover, irrational emotional reaction to otherwise ordinary situations is common, which creates social problems for PTSD survivors.

They also have intimacy and sexual performance issues as they cannot relax and feel continuously on guard.

Physical Symptoms of PTSD Attack

Physical symptoms of PTSD are observed during severe episodes, making it impossible to perform daily tasks.

Sadly, not many know the connection between PTSD and these physical symptoms, which may make them go untreated for a long time.

Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations refer to the pounding, fluttering, or fast beating of the heart, which are harmless but can trigger a panic attack in people with PTSD.

This is why heart attacks and cardiovascular disease risk factors increase with PTSD, affecting the quality of life and longevity.

Increased blood pressure is another physical symptom that affects cardiovascular health.

Nausea and Fatigue

A person with PTSD may feel recurring or consistent fatigue and tiredness even when other symptoms are not present.

Nausea also occurs with fatigue in many survivors, especially those who develop eating disorders due to anxiety and have trouble sleeping.

Muscle Tension and Pain

Muscle pain and tension are symptoms of anxiety but are also present in people with PTSD.

Other pains such as headaches, back pain, joint pain, and chronic pains also develop when the symptoms worsen.

How To Cope With a PTSD Attack

Several treatments are available for PTSD, which include behavioral therapies, cognitive processing therapies, and alternative therapies.

That said, these treatment options work for most people with mild to severe PTSD.

Mental health professionals suggest additional treatment steps for severe attacks based on patient history and type of trauma.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD, but many people don’t need that.

Family therapy and a safe environment may be enough for mild symptoms, which reassures the person with stress disorder.

Animal-assisted therapy is another good option for people living alone and taking comfort from loving animals.

Stress Inoculation Training, or SIT, is another effective treatment for PTSD. It’s a type of CBT you can do alone or in a group session.

It consists of relaxing techniques such as massages, breathing, and positive thinking to deal with the traumatic event’s impacts.


Self-care is essential and may include meditation, exercise, building a support network, and finding a creative outlet.

Avoiding alcohol and drugs is also important.

On top of these, you will find that yoga practice, regular massage, and deep breathing are helpful in relieving stress symptoms.

Family Support

If one of your family members has PTSD, tell them they will be fine.

Give them support and try to engage them in relaxing activities such as long walks, meditation, and safe sports.


PTSD treatments include medication similar to depression. These medicines help you process threats rationally.

They work on neurotransmitters and enable you to stop worrying about the traumatic incident. They also help you regain a positive attitude towards life.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is another excellent way to deal with PTSD episodes, as it helps you change your thought patterns.

The focus of NLP is not on theoretical approaches but on practical steps to help you regain control and trust.

One advantage of NLP over traditional therapy is how fast it works.

There are no lengthy sessions that go back to your childhood memories.

Instead, the focus remains on the traumatic event and how you can cope with the intensity of triggers without feeling threatened.

Here are some of the best resources to learn about NLP and how you can benefit from it:

PTSD FREE – The NLP Thought Experiments

This is a simple yet accurate book on PTSD with practical guides.

It answers many questions, including what does a PTSD attack feel like and how it can be treated using NLP techniques.

Free Yourself From Fears with NLP

Here is another excellent resource for people experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms after a traumatic experience.

It teaches you NLP techniques to help you relax and process stimuli rationally and thoughtfully.

Instead of living on the edge, you will learn to respond proactively.

NLP: Anxiety: Reprogram Your Brain

This book helps you get out of the anxiety cycle and develop productive and positive thoughts.

Habits are a key focus of this book, teaching you to replace negative thoughts with mindful and rational patterns.

Get the Right PTSD Treatment

If you have PTSD, remember that you’re not alone, and there are effective ways to get out of this constant state of fear.

You’re no longer in danger, so you can now work on your mental health and connect with others to heal faster.

If you’re trying to support someone with PTSD, make them feel safe and loved and help them make sense of their trauma.

PTSD treatment does not take long when you have the will and support, so there’s no need to worry.

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