Post-traumatic Stress Reactions

Understanding post-traumatic stress reactions can help you reach out to survivors of trauma.

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Post-traumatic stress (PTS) reactions are normal reactions to a traumatic incident and they usually diminish and disappear within a few weeks. Most people who have been exposed to a traumatic incident — such as a road traffic accident, work-related accident, physical assault or mass disaster — experience PTS reactions. 

Common Symptoms of PTS Reactions

Some reactions that can occur after traumatic events include:
Upsetting thoughts, memories, or dreams about the event
Acting or feeling as though the event was happening again
Feeling upset by reminders of the event 
Bodily reactions — such as fast heartbeat, churning stomach, sweatiness, dizziness — when reminded of the event
Difficulty falling or staying asleep 
Irritability or outbursts of anger 
Difficulty concentrating 
Heightened awareness of potential dangers to yourself and others 
Being unusually jumpy or getting startled easily at something unexpected

Support for Someone with PTS Reactions

The PTS sufferer may be reluctant to seek professional help, but this could be beneficial and the doctor may recommend speaking to a trauma counsellor for support.


Caregivers and loved ones of an individual who has experienced a traumatic event can play an important role in the recovery process, as they are in a position to recognise PTS reactions early and provide the necessary support. Studies have shown that early intervention following a traumatic event can potentially help reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.



Although PTS reactions can be distressing, some individuals have experienced positive psychological changes, which can include having a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in life. Researchers have a growing interest in this area of post-traumatic growth. These distressing reactions and positive changes can collaboratively aid in one’s recovery after a traumatic event. 

What to Do if PTS Reactions Don’t Taper Off

While PTS reactions usually taper off within a few weeks of the traumatic incident, some people may continue to experience PTS reactions, and these can worsen over time. Specifically, the emotional reactions can become so intense that they impair the person’s functioning. Therefore, if a person continues to experience PTS reactions for more than a month, it is recommended that he/she should consult the family doctor or seek psychiatric help as he/she may be at high risk for developing PTSD or depression. Counsellors and other mental health professionals may also assist the affected person by making appropriate referrals to a psychiatrist if the PTS reactions persist and medication is needed. Psychological medicine services are available at most hospitals.


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