Issue 42 Traumatic Stress

By WO Team

Symptoms of post traumatic stress

Symptoms of post traumatic stress


Our evolutionary adaptive response to trauma is a flight/fight/freeze/faint response. Post traumatic stress can manifest in many different symptoms.

Very Young Children

  • May present few apparent symptoms.
  • May report more generalized fears such as stranger or separation anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Preoccupation with words or symbols that may be related to the trauma
  • May repeat themes of the trauma in play
  • May lose an acquired developmental skill, such as toilet training

Elementary School Age

  • May experience visual flashbacks or amnesia
  • May miss sequence related events when remembering the event
  • May believe that there were warning signs that predicted the trauma
  • Compulsively repeating some aspect of the trauma in play, for example an increase in shooting games after exposure to a shooting


  • Symptoms resemble adults
  • More likely to engage in reenactment, incorporating aspects of the trauma into their daily lives
  • More likely than younger children or adults to exhibit increased impulsive and aggressive behaviors
  • Experience nightmares and intrusive thoughts about the trauma
  • May be easily startled
  • May avoid reminders of the trauma
  • Can become depressed, angry, distrustful, fearful, alienated, and feel betrayed
  • Many do not feel they have a future


  • A general loss of interest in life
  • Difficulty imagining a future
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Avoidance of people, places, and other reminders of the traumatic event
  • A sense of current or imminent danger
  • Flashbacks or intrusive recollections so vivid that the person feels as if they are reliving the actual event
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Detachment in relationships
  • Lack of trust

Updated 2016, original article from WellnessOptions #12, 2003


American Psychiatric Association website updated July, 2015

National Center for PTSD, US Department of veteran Affairs website updated Feb 23, 2016

Siegel, D J (2010) The mindful therapist, a clinician's guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York, Norton

Fitch, P; Dryden, T (2000) Recovering Body and Soul from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Massage Therapy Journal. Spring 2000; 39(1)

Foy, D.W. & Goguen, C.A. (1998). Community violence-related PTSD in children and adolescents. PTSD Research Quarterly 1998; 9: 1-6.

Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and AdolescentsWith Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. (1998) J Amer Acad Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 1998; 37: 4S-26S

Herman, J. (1997) Trauma and Recovery. Basic Books, 1997.

Van Der Kolk, B.A., McFarlane, A.C.,Weisaeth, L. (editors)(1996). Traumatic Stress:The

Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. Guilford Press

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