Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Phobias

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health disorder in people who have suffered severe trauma such as from a natural disaster. However, some studies show that the risk of other anxiety disorders, including phobias, is also elevated in the months following serious trauma. Additionally, some of the symptoms of PTSD can mirror those of phobias, making diagnosis more difficult. Here is what you should know about post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is a complex reaction to serious stress trauma. For PTSD to develop, the sufferer must have been exposed to a situation in which grave physical harm or sexual violence was present, threatened, or witnessed. Examples of situations that may lead to PTSD include combat, natural disaster, sexual abuse, learning of a traumatic event to a close family member or viewing the death of another person.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD are far more varied than those of a phobia, although some symptoms do overlap. PTSD has different clusters of symptoms, including re-experiencing/intrusion symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms, and cognitive and mood symptoms.

Risk Factors for Developing Post-Disaster Anxiety Disorders

No one can accurately predict who will develop PTSD, phobias, or other disorders after a traumatic experience. Nonetheless, certain specific risk factors make it more likely that a disorder will occur. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Separation or isolation
  • Displacement from home or family
  • Serious harm to self or loved ones

Age, gender, and social class also appear to play a role, with middle-aged females from a lower socioeconomic bracket apparently the most susceptible to developing disorders.

PTSD, phobias and other disorders can strike anyone.

If you are concerned about your symptoms, see a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Differential Diagnosis

Most people who suffer from PTSD do not experience all of the symptoms. Some of the more commonly experienced symptoms of PTSD are similar to the symptoms of phobias. Likewise, other mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder are sometimes triggered by disasters. It is also possible to develop more than one disorder simultaneously. Therefore, only a trained professional can decide which diagnosis is most appropriate.

Crisis Anniversaries

Interestingly, immediately after a disaster is not the only high-risk time for PTSD, phobias and other disorders to develop. The anniversary of traumatic events can also trigger these disorders.

Anniversary reactions may develop slowly in the weeks and months preceding the anniversary date or may come on suddenly and unexpectedly. It is normal to feel some sadness and distress around the anniversary of any major trauma, but severe reactions may signal a disorder.

You can manage minor anniversary reactions on your own by planning ahead for the date, staying busy and talking through your feelings with others. If your symptoms are more severe, however, it is important to seek treatment. Over time, an untreated anniversary reaction could develop into a chronic mental health disorder.

PTSD is the most common disorder following a trauma. However, it is not the only anxiety disorder that may develop. If you have been through a serious event and are experiencing any unusual or troubling symptoms, visit a mental health professional as soon as possible.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIMH. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

  2. US Department of Veteran's Affairs. Anniversary reactions: research findings.

Additional Reading
  • National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. Two Years After Katrina: A Survey of Mental Health and Addiction Providers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

  • Norris, Fran. Psychosocial Consequences of Major Hurricanes and Floods: Range, Duration, and Magnitude of Effects and Risk Factors for Adverse Outcomes. National Center for PTSD Fact Sheet.

  • North, Carol. Somatization in Survivors of Catastrophic Trauma: A Methodological Review. Environmental Health Perspectives. August 2002. 110:S4.

  • Smith MA, Melinda, Jaffe Ph.D., Jaelline, Segal Ph.D., Jeanne. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.