The Mighty Logo

16 Surprising Physical Symptoms of PTSD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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.

• What is PTSD?

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.

Originally published: May 26, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home