This Self Help For PTSD guide is intended for people with mild-to-moderate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
If you’re feeling distressed, in a state of despair, suicidal, or need emotional support you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
This Self Help For PTSD guide aims to help you:
- consider whether you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD or CPTSD
- understand more about PTSD and CPTSD
- think about ways to manage or recover from PTSD or CPTSD
This guide is based on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Therapy (TF-CT). TF-CT aims to help people who have been through trauma and adversity to make sense of what they’ve experienced, and become less distressed and affected by it.
If you think you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), it’s important for you to visit your GP and discuss your concerns. This Self Help For PTSD guide can help with managing symptoms while you wait for an assessment by your GP or a mental health professional.
Table of Contents
How to use the Self Help For PTSD Guide
Working through this guide can take around 30 to 40 minutes. Please go through it at your own pace.
To type in a graphic or diary, click or tap the part you’d like to fill in and use your keyboard as usual.
You can save and print this PDF guide on your device at any time.
Traumatic events are extremely threatening or horrific events that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. They can be events you experience yourself, or events you witness.
Witnessing a traumatic event might involve watching or hearing someone else experience it, or watching the event on TV. Some people can also be very affected when they learn that a close family member or friend experienced trauma.
It’s important to know that what’s traumatic for one person might not be traumatic for another person.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are sometimes considered traumatic events.
Adjusting to trauma
It’s normal to be distressed by trauma, and to need time and support to adjust to what you’ve experienced. This includes people who are specially trained, like firefighters and soldiers. Symptoms of PTSD or CPTSD don’t always appear immediately after a trauma.
If you have experienced traumatic events, you’ll probably have memories about those distressing events. It’s important to note that having memories about distressing experiences is not the same as having PTSD or CPTSD.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you may develop after being involved in, or witnessing, traumatic events.
The condition was first recognized in war veterans and has been known by a variety of names, such as ‘shell shock’. But it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers – a wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD AND CPTSD
If what you’ve experienced continues to distress you, and is interfering with your everyday life, you may be experiencing PTSD or CPTSD. There’s more information on CPTSD in the next section.
Common symptoms of PTSD are:
- unwanted, upsetting memories of traumatic event(s)
- nightmares related to the traumatic event(s)
- flashbacks – feeling as if the traumatic event(s) are actually happening again right now
- feeling very upset when reminded of the trauma(s)
- having physical reactions when reminded of the trauma(s), such as sweating or feeling your heart racing
‘Re-experiencing’ means memories of trauma(s) repeatedly pop into your mind, without you choosing or wanting to think about them.
Anything you experienced at the time of the traumatic event(s) can be re-experienced, including sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings. The memories may seem very vivid and real, and it can feel like the events are happening right now, even though they’re in the past.
- trying to avoid memories, thoughts or feelings related to the trauma(s)
- trying to avoid people, places, or situations that remind you of trauma(s) or that feel more dangerous since the trauma(s)
It’s common for people who’ve been through traumatic experiences to try to cope by using avoidance. You, or the people around you, might be trying to avoid or ‘push away’ thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the trauma.
You might be trying to keep your mind busy all the time so you don’t have to talk or think about the event(s). Sometimes people use alcohol, legal or illegal drugs, or self-harm as a way to avoid thinking about the trauma.
Sense of threat symptoms (feeling ‘on edge’)
- being very alert or on guard/watchful
- feeling like you have to watch for dangers or threats
- being easily startled or ‘jumpy’
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, your symptoms would have to go on for several weeks and have a significant impact on your life.
Symptoms of CPTSD
In order for someone to be diagnosed with CPTSD, they have to be experiencing all of the symptoms of PTSD as well as additional symptoms. If you think you are experiencing CPTSD, read the previous section, which has information on PTSD symptoms, first.
CPTSD is diagnosed based on the symptoms a person is experiencing, rather than the type of trauma they’ve experienced.
Common symptoms of CPTSD are:
- Re-experiencing symptoms
- Avoidance symptoms
- Sense of threat symptoms
Emotion regulation symptoms
- being sensitive, or your feelings being easily hurt
- difficulty experiencing positive emotions – for example, it might be hard for you to feel happy or loving towards the people close to you
- feeling the world is unreal, as if you’re living in a dream
- often feeling angry or irritable
- deliberately trying to hurt yourself or put yourself in dangerous situations
Negative sense of self symptoms
- feeling worthless or defeated
- thinking you’re ‘bad’, or that there’s something wrong with you
- blaming yourself for the traumatic event(s) or consequences of the traumatic event(s)
Relationship disturbance symptoms
- feeling distant or cut off from other people
- feeling isolated from other people
- struggling to maintain relationships with other people
In order to be diagnosed with CPTSD, these symptoms (including the PTSD symptoms) would have to go on for several weeks and have a significant impact on your life.
Other symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD
If you are experiencing PTSD or CPTSD, you might also experience these symptoms.
Thoughts you might have
- “It should never have happened.”
- “It was my fault.”
- “I let other people down.”
- “I should have known it was going to happen.”
- “I’m bad.”
- “Other people can’t be trusted.”
- “The world is a dangerous place.”
- “Nowhere is safe.”
- “Bad things always happen to me.”
- “I’m going mad.”
- “I have permanently changed for the worse.”
- “I can’t trust my own judgment.”
- “My problems won’t get better.”
Feelings you might have
- fear and anxiety
- emotional numbness