Is It A PTSD Attack? Living With Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Traumatic experiences can affect someone long after the event has passed and can be challenging to manage alone. However, we want to be the first to tell you that you aren’t alone. Therapy can help you manage PTSD attacks and other symptoms to rpromote a higher quality of life for yourself and others. Read on to learn about strategies to help you live well with PTSD, and possible treatment options that may be  available. 

Experiencing PTSD symptoms?

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD is generally defined as a trauma-related mental health condition that can occur after life-threatening or traumatic experiences. Though it doesn’t always occur immediately following the events, PTSD can initiate intense feelings or symptoms that can affect your mood, thoughts, behavior and comfort level, possibly impacting all areas of your life and daily function.

While this can be overwhelming to experience, ongoing education and therapy can be powerful ways to address this in the lives of many. 

Related conditions connected to PTSD

Understanding the range of conditions that may be connected to PTSD can help one to validate one’s experience. We’ve summarized common correlated conditions below: 

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder symptoms can occur for up to 30 days after experiencing a traumatic event. If the condition persists longer, it generally can be classified as PTSD. We do want to note: Acute stress disorder does not necessarily need to occur for PTSD to be present in some.  

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)

This condition can result from a childhood that promoted emotional or physical neglect, and is generally recognized in children who withdraw from adults.

Adjustment disorder

This condition may be diagnosed when an adult or a child exhibits some symptoms of PTSD without meeting the full diagnostic criteria. 

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)

Neglect in one’s childhood can prompt the development of  DSED, which can be categorized by frequent social interaction with unfamiliar people or impulsive behavior. 

What is a PTSD attack?

In the event of a PTSD attack, you may experience intense PTSD symptoms that can last for hours—which can impact your ability to work or function in your daily life. 

During a PTSD episode or PTSD attack, you may have intrusive thoughts, visions, nightmares or a flashback in which you experience vivid memories or relive your trauma. PTSD attacks can cause intense fear, dissociation or feeling disconnected from yourself and the world. They may also prompt physical symptoms like shaking, difficulty breathing, sweating and a racing heart. 

PTSD signs and symptoms

The symptoms you experience with PTSD can be as unique as the situations that created it. You may find many of your symptoms may range from adverse changes in thinking and mood to such as trouble maintaining close relationships. You may also experience hopelessness, memory problems, feelings of detachment, emotional numbness or negative thoughts about your situation. 

The changes you experience may also be more physical or emotional, and can include symptoms such as sleep disturbances, self-destructive behavior, overwhelming guilt or shame, anger or aggression.

We do want to note that the intensity of your symptoms may fluctuate over time. For example: When you’re stressed, you may be more likely to notice symptoms. If you find yourself experiencing this fluctuation in life quality, it can be helpful to seek therapy, peer support or other resources that could possibly elevate your mood and support you in your next right step.

Typical PTSD symptoms

In addition to the experiences mentioned above, people living with PTSD may also experience: 

  • Intrusive memories/thoughts
  • A heightened fright response 
  • Flashbacks
  • Heightened sensitivity or hypervigilance
  • Negative shifts in mood and thinking

We do want to reiterate that everyone’s symptomatic manifestation is different. Understanding the range of symptoms, however, can validate the experiences of survivors and encourage them to seek further professional support. 


How to manage PTSD attacks

A PTSD attack can leave you experiencing frustration or low moods. Learning how to stabilize your system after a PTSD attack, however, can promote a higher quality of life and a better overall experience. 

You may experience a higher degree of peace by breathing deeply as you feel yourself coming down from the climax of the PTSD attack. Feelings of nervousness can prompt you take fast, shallow breaths. Instead, you may choose to focus on taking slow, deep breaths. You can also learn grounding techniques to help root yourself in the moments after the attack subsides, bringing you to a place of neutrality and peace rather than further sensitization. 

As you continue to build up your supportive strategies and references, we recommend speaking with a clinician or a psychotherapist who can provide you with strategic and personalized advice. 

PTSD coping strategies

While seeking professional treatment is the most effective step to live healthfully with PTSD for most, you can take additional intentional action to mitigate the effect of PTSD symptoms as they arise. Building a support system of friends and loved ones to help you, eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and regularly moving your body with exercise or physical activity are often ideal and reachable first steps, for many.

What causes PTSD?

Experts believe that there are numerous factors that may play a role in how you respond to traumatic events. For example: It is possible that two people may experience the same traumatic event, and only one might develop PTSD. 

There are many possible reasons for this, which can include: 

  • Genetics: Certain genetic factors and expressions can influence how you handle stress
  • Environmental factors. Existing mental health conditions, past trauma, a lack of support, and other stressors can affect whether you develop PTSD

Researchers from Mayo Clinic note that: “Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD”. In this case, many may benefit from seeking therapeutic intervention or other complimentary supportive strategies. 

How common is PTSD?

According to the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs, researchers estimate that roughly six out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives—amounting to about six percent of the population. 

Details from that same statistical analysis suggests that gender may play a role in possible causes. Additionally, LGBTQ+ individuals might face a significantly higher risk of PTSD, the occurrence rate of which is approximated to amount to roughly 48 percent of the population’s subgroup. 

PTSD treatments

The American Psychological Association recommends various therapeutic treatments for PTSD, many of which are generally different forms of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that focuses on the relationship between your thoughts, emotions and behaviors—possibly working to change patterns, and improve functionality. 

  • Additional treatment options generally include: Cognitive processing therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Prolonged exposure
  • Brief eclectic psychotherapy (dependent on a clinician’s recommendation) 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
  • Narrative exposure therapy (NET)
  • Medication (dependent on a clinician’s recommendation) 

Before trying any option, we do recommend speaking with a trusted physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist for their professional opinion on what may help in your case. PTSD Resources

Feelings of isolation can be a normal experience for those living with PTSD. It can help to remember that you aren’t alone and that resources are available to help. You might consider reaching out to a friend or loved one, contacting a minister or participant of your local faith community, or making an appointment with your physician or mental healthcare provider. 

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Experiencing PTSD symptoms?

Emergency resources for PTSD

  • If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 74174.
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 (and press 1) or text 838255. For support for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community, please use your preferred relay.

How to support a loved one with PTSD

If someone close to you has been through a traumatic event and experiences PTSD symptoms, you may not know how to help and support them. However, taking the time to learn can improve their quality of life, and yours. To start, you might plan to check in with them often, which can help determine which coping strategies are working. Additionally, The National Center for PTSD offers some other tips to support loved ones with PTSD. These can include: 

  • Reminding the loved one that they aren’t alone, they are safe, and their trauma is behind them
  • Offering to attend doctor’s appointments with them
  • Helping them to prioritize the need for healthy physical activity, diet and sleep
  • Creating a crisis plan together. In this, you can talk about what to do if they experience a flashback, panic attack or nightmare and need support
  • Educating yourself about PTSD
  • Learning to recognize and avoid triggers in a healthy way
  • Planning enjoyable activities and letting your loved one join at their own pace
  • Listening without judgment
  • Being patient
  • Offering practical help
  • Telling your feelings and taking care of yourself too

How can online therapy help those living with PTSD?

If post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and attacks are interfering with one’s daily life, or if someone experiences emotional dysregulation due to a traumatic event, it can be helpful to consider speaking to a therapist. While PTSD can be a chronic or debilitating mental health condition, online therapy can be a means for many to find the support they need to thrive. 

Is online therapy effective for PTSD? 

Many people choose to seek therapy from the familiar setting of their homes through online therapeutic platforms like BetterHelp. Recent studies show that guided internet-based cognitive behavior therapy for PTSD was effective, and researchers recommended it as a first-line treatment option for people with mild to moderate PTSD. It was explicitly noted that there were no noticeable differences in efficacy between this method of delivery and in-person therapeutic intervention, and that it could be a more attainable and affordable way for survivors to get support. 


PTSD symptoms can often be managed with treatment and supportive strategies. The information outlined in this article may make it easier to identify PTSD attacks or locate resources to help yourself or a loved one seek treatment. Online therapy can be an effective means of addressing symptoms, showing comparable efficacy when compared to in-person treatment. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your specific area of need.
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