Many people experience a traumatic event at some time in their life - a serious accident, natural disaster, sexual assault or violent personal assault, war, sudden death of a loved one - though most individuals recover from them. Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, have difficulty recovering after experiencing a traumatic event. They may find themselves regularly re-experiencing the event (having unwanted memories, nightmares, flashbacks), feeling distress when reminded of the traumatic event, having issues with chronic anxiety, fear, anger, shame, guilt or sadness, avoiding specific situations or settings, and being constantly on-guard or watchful, being jumpy or easily started, and having sleep problems. PTSD can interfere with one's relationships, leading someone to become detached or withdrawn, and can also interfere with one's ability to function at work. When symptoms are present in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event (a few days to a month), it is considered acute stress disorder or an acute stress reaction.
When an individual experiences abnormal or persistent emotional responses - such as anxiety and depressive symptoms - as a result of major life changes, they may be suffering from an adjustment disorder. Life stressors associated with adjustment disorders can include a job change, divorce or relationship problems, having a baby, moving, starting college, financial strain, getting married, unemployment, transitioning out of the military, or developing health problems. Symptoms begin shortly after major life stressors or changes, and can include sadness, withdrawal or isolation, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, lowered self-esteem, nervousness, worry, and difficulties at work or home.