Overview: Stress, Trauma, and PTSD

Long after experience trauma or intense stress, people can suffer from emotional, mental, and even physiological challenges.

Our understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is quickly evolving. Originally, it was associated with intense experiences in war or an intensely traumatic event. Now we know PTSD can is far more pervasive and patients often aren't aware of the cause of their suffering.

PTSD is caused by the automatic fight, flight and freeze response we experience when we perceive a threat. The threat could be real or just our brain's automatic interpretation of a threat.  Real threats can include being in war, being a victim  of or witnessing an act of violence, or being a victim of or witnessing an accident.

Because our physiological brain has not evolved quickly enough to keep pace with our modern society, it can also perceive chronic stress as life threatening and trigger fight, flight, or freeze response.

The fight, flight and freeze response floods our brains with chemicals and hormones that can cause structural changes in the brain that causing it to function differently.

Recent studies of the brain imaging of PTSD patients show common structural changes that increase activity in the amygdala (emotional, reactionary part of the brain) and decreases activity in the pre-frontal cortex effecting logical thinking and memory.

trauma

Signs & Symptoms*

Re-Experiencing (Flashbacks):

  • Frequent upsetting thoughts or memories of a traumatic event.
  • Having recurrent nightmares
  • Feeling as though the event were happening again, sometimes called a flashback
  • Strong feelings of distress when reminded of the event
  • Being physically responsive, such as increased heart rate or sweating, when reminded of the event.

Avoidance:

  • Making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event
  • Actively trying to avoid places or people that remind you of the traumatic event9
  • Keeping yourself too busy to have time to think about the traumatic event

Hyperarousal

  • Having a difficult time falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling more irritable or having outbursts of anger
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling constantly on guard or like danger is lurking around every corner
  • Being jumpy or easily startled

Negative Thoughts and Beliefs

  • Having a difficult time remembering important parts of the traumatic event
  • A loss of interest in important, once positive, activities
  • Feeling distant from others
  • Experiencing difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love
  • Feeling as though your life may be cut short

Many of these symptoms are an extreme version of our body's natural response to stress. Understanding our body's natural response to threat and danger, known as the fight or flight response, can help us better understand the symptoms of PTSD.

* From VeryWellMind

Recovery

While the brain cannot exactly be restored to pre-trauma state, it can regrow new neural connections with proper treatment.

Effective treatment for PTSD include a combination of:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (commonly referred to as talk therapy)
  • Anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication (temporary or long-term)
  • Healthy, brain-smart diet
  • Regular exercise (not overly strenuous)
  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness practice
    • meditation
    • relaxing music
    • slowing down to eat
    • breathing exercises

If you or someone you love has symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek help from both mental health experts and your doctor. To help you through your healing process, a health and life coach can provide encouragement, an easy, step-by-step action plan, and accountability for success..

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