16 Surprising Physical Symptoms of PTSD

When we think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we often think of the mental pain associated with it. Maybe we think of feelings of depression and hopelessness, or mentally “checking out” from the present. But PTSD — as is the case for many mental illnesses — can manifest in tangible, physical ways.

To understand some of the surprising physical ways PTSD can manifest, we asked people in our mental health community to describe some of the physical symptoms they’ve experienced as a result of their condition.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “Rapid weight loss without trying. I just don’t have an appetite anymore.” — Schelley K.

2. “My super sensitive sense of smell, and hearing. I can notice things miles before others. It has its downsides though. Most of the time it overwhelms me, and I spend most of my life trying to block sounds out!” — Lara C.

3. “Distorted vision and hearing. Experiencing sensory overload is a pain in the ass, and when it gets to the point of a panic attack, [my] senses numb and get all out [of] whack, before the inevitable tunnel vision and blackout.” — Raven C.

4. “The excruciating migraines that come with the horrible bad dreams.” — Elizabeth D.

5. “For me, it’s one of two things, both so opposite from each other. Sometimes, it’s like having a weight on my chest and I can hardly breathe. Other times, it’s like there is a hole where that weight was making me feel empty and worthless.” — Kyndra W.

6. “I have physical sensations of my trauma.” — Katrina A.

7. “[A] big physical symptom that my PTSD gives me is constant anxiety. Feeling on edge, like I’m slowly losing my breath, at times. Constant stuttering and the nervous butterfly feeling in my stomach. When the triggers occur, it only progresses to an intense hopeless feeling, [when I] feel weakened at the knees, and I just want to roll up in the shower and cry.” — Erika D.

8. “The physical pain. Waking up from nightmares, having full-body muscle contractions because of the tension and fear. The worst part is how much my body hurts, and it’s out of my control.” — Cassy C.

9. “Collapsing spells during a panic attack. If my attacks are really bad, my body will just lose all strength and just collapse. Had this happen a few days ago.” — CK D.

10. “Sensitive ears to vibrations. Any vibration. [A] large truck going by the house, neighbor’s kids running up and down the stairs, [being] so windy the house shakes, speed bumps… [can] cause me to panic and become really uncomfortable.” — Vanessa D.

11. “Throwing up. I can start throwing up like crazy when things get overwhelming. I start by hyperventilating first, and then it’s too much for my lungs to handle, and somehow, I just throw up.” — Ayu S.

12. “My body quickly jerks when I close my eyes. It happens until I’m able to fall asleep. Apparently, it’s my body protecting me.” — Jennifer S.

13. “Being easily startled.” — Amanda C.

14. “Physically feeling like [I’m] dying. When I get triggered, I get severe panic attacks and in that moment, I think I’m going to die. I’m on the floor, gasping for air with these memories running through my head, and I’m clutching my chest and bawling my eyes out, waiting for that relief of air again.” — Devon B.

15. “Excruciating pain towards the base of my spine as the adrenaline rush starts.” — Lisa M.

16. “Chronic fatigue. When people talk about PTSD, they often focus on the psychological symptoms, but what they don’t mention is that dealing with those psychological symptoms on a daily basis can take a heavy toll on a person. I am mentally exhausted from all the coping mechanisms I have to use to keep my PTSD in check, and it’s almost like this mental exhaustion bleeds over into the physical. It feels like all the energy and motivation has been sapped from my mind and body, so I spend a lot of time just sitting and doing nothing because I’m too tired.” — Rachel W.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Bright idea form human head, thinking about success solution.

Why I Identify With the Term 'Process Junkie' as Someone in Mental Illness Recovery

Bullseye. It hit me. Right there. I’d been reading Pete Walker’s book, “The Tao of Fully Feeling,” and one paragraph stopped me in my tracks. It was like, “that’s me.” “Some survivors work over-diligently at their recovery that they become what those versed in recovery terminology call ‘process junkies.’ These survivors are constantly preoccupied with self-help exercises, [...]
woman sitting on floor hugging knees next to window

My Problem With 'Post-Traumatic Growth' as an Individual With PTSD

I recently learned of a growing subject in the realm of trauma: it’s called post-traumatic growth. The idea is that an individual goes through a traumatic event and grow from it as a person, becoming kinder, stronger, wiser, more compassionate, etc. As soon as I heard of the term, every alarm bell in my mind [...]
newly wed husband and wife embracing before stone wall

How PTSD Crashed My Wedding Night

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. A typical wedding night usually ends with the couple falling onto a large plush king-size bed, laughing and reminiscing about the night’s events, before embracing one another for [...]
young woman in field in sunshine

The Unexpected Way That Reaching out to a Therapist Changed My Life

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Three years ago this month, I made a phone call that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had gone through a [...]