Ptsd: Why Does It Happen How Survivors Can Heal
A traumatic event is something no one is prepared to deal with. You may feel your mind and body are in a state of shock from the experience. You may have nightmares, feel jumpy, or find yourself re-playing the event in your mind. You may even feel disconnected from the world around you. What happened was traumatic, and any person would feel shaken up. This is natural and human.
For people who have enough resilience, the intense state of alarm will go away over time. They can sort out their thoughts and feelings, process what happened, and move on. It may take days or weeks, but the symptoms gradually decrease.
With post-traumatic stress disorder the feelings dont go away. People with PTSD dont experience getting a little bit better every day. In fact, trying to cope with the after-effects of severe trauma can be very difficult. New brain research and the hard work of survivors provides important insights for treatment and hope.
Ways To Deal With Hyperarousal Symptoms Of Ptsd
For me, dealing with the hyperarousal symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder is an ongoing thing. I think it’s the one group of PTSD symptoms that currently affects me the most, even with all of the therapy I have had and the medication I take. In my last post, I wrote about how the brain functions during trauma and how, for those of us with PTSD, it can get stuck in the reactive state . In this post I want to talk about what it feels like to be in the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD and how to deal with it.
Hypervigilance And The Exaggerated Startle Response: Ptsd Symptoms
Hypervigilance is the feeling of constantly being “on alert.” I feel this the most when I am somewhere by myself, not necessarily places where there aren’t other people around, but places where I don’t know anyone, and there is no one with me who makes me feel safe. It’s why I don’t like to go shopping or to social gatherings by myself.
The exaggerated startle response is irritating at times. It’s as unpredictable as the sights and sounds that startle me. It doesn’t have to be something loud, or even something that makes noise to make me jump out of my skin. Sometimes it’s just seeing something unexpected, like looking up from a book and realizing that my husband has entered the room, or hearing a car honk its horn in the distance.
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Flashbacks And Panic: Signs Of Re
Everyday occurrences can trigger memories of the traumatic event. When the brain becomes reminded of the trauma, survivors of PTSD may re-experience the event itself, as if it were occurring in the present. Flashbacks cause the survivor to have a waking, conscious and often sensory experience of the traumatic episode, usually accompanied by visual or auditory immersions.
Intrusive thoughts can also represent the re-experiencing of trauma, as the survivors natural efforts to switch mental focus or block the experience fail. Another sign of re-experiencing trauma in PTSD is extreme psychological stress when triggers occur.
He or she may even experience physical sensations of re-experiencing, such as muscles freezing, profuse sweating, racing pulse or heartbeat, yelling, or running away when psychological or physical cues trigger the traumatic event.
Finally, persistent nightmares represent re-experiencing the trauma and in some cases, nightmares that cause the survivor to relive the event can be as traumatic as flashbacks.
Negative Thoughts And Feelings
One of the most difficult symptoms of PTSD is a negatively altered mood. Some people with PTSD may lose interest in things that they want to enjoy, be unable to concentrate, or feel that they are wandering through life like a ghost. It is normal for anyone to get swept up in dark moods at times. But with PTSD treatment, it is possible to learn new ways to cope and observe the waves of emotions without getting lost in them.
No matter how grim things look, know that these symptoms are part of the disorder. Brain research is shedding light on changes in the brains structure and function following the aftermath of trauma. This information helps explain why emotions and other symptoms occur the way they do. It also leads to treatments that can help PTSD survivors manage symptoms and even strengthen brain structures for the better.
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Ptsd Symptoms: Negative Outlook
- Engaging in substance abuse
- Feeling guilt, shame, or responsibility for what happened
Some trauma survivors may also experience hallucinations or delusions, which are characteristic of PTSD with psychosis, a more severe form of PTSD.
While you may suffer more from symptoms within one of these categories than another, the majority of clients with PTSD that we have worked with have exhibited at least two symptoms of PTSD from each. The degree to which each negatively affects your life is a major concern as well. You may, for example, experience many PTSD symptoms of avoidance, but are most negatively impacted by one symptom of hyperarousal. At Bridges to Recovery, we will explore each of your symptoms of PTSD individually, as well as helping you gain a greater understanding of how they overlap. We have found this comprehensive approach offers the most benefits.
While most symptoms of PTSD in men, women, teens and children are near universal, there are some that are more likely to be exhibited by men, and some that are more likely to be exhibited by women. Lets take a closer look at a few of those
Avoidance And Emotional Numbing
Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD.
This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.
Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.
Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing.
This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy.
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Pain Distress And The Amygdala
Severe pain importantly contributes to PTSD development , and the amygdala may process this similarly to hyperarousal .1). The amygdala receives heavy nociceptive inputs via several neuroanatomical pathways according to neuroanatomical tracing studies in monkey and rodent. Nociceptors in skin and throughout the body project to spinal cord neurons, which relay nociceptive information via dense projections sequentially through spinal cord, several nuclei of the thalamus, insula, or to SII which in turn projects heavily to insula, thence to multiple amygdaloid nuclei . A further pathway relaying nociceptive information involves similar origins that project via NTS, PBC, to the central amygdaloid nucleus . Human neuroimaging studies further demonstrate that painful stimulation activates the amygdala, and multiple additional areas . Nevertheless, lesions to the amygdala do not affect pain sensitivity levels nor latency of pain responses , so the amygdala may mediate chronic or high-level pain-related functions. Pain-related amygdala activity undergoes consolidation , and may produce noxiousness representations that participate in distributed representations. Mental pain or distress and physical pain are processed by largely overlapping networks of brain regions , including the amygdala , so mental pain also may be processed similarly to hyperarousal. Pain processes are normally adaptive, but in PTSD are likely extreme and consequently disabling.
The Four Types Of Symptoms Of Ptsd
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health issue that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event, according to the National Institute of Mental Health . It is widely believed that PTSD is reserved for veterans who survived traumatic experiences during wartime, but PTSD can happen to anyone. Even those who did not directly experience a trauma, but had witnessed a life-threatening event may experience symptoms of this disorder.
Although each person may experience symptoms differently, there are four main types to be aware of:
Re-experiencing symptoms are those that make you feel as though you are reliving the event. Flashbacks, nightmares and bad memories are examples of re-experiencing symptoms. These symptoms, particularly flashbacks, can also have physical effects such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. According to the NIMH, Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing symptoms.
Avoiding certain places, people and situations that trigger bad memories is common when experiencing these symptoms. One may also avoid thinking about or discussing the event and may change their daily routine for this reason. For example, someone who was mugged while walking home from work may choose to avoid their usual route, or change their transportation method to driving.
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Nervines For Hyperarousal Caused By Ptsd
As trauma in general becomes seemingly more prevalent in our society, youve probably come across the term PTSD at one point or another. PTSD otherwise known as posttraumatic stress disorder is defined by the American Psychological Association as a disorder that may result when an individual lives through or witnesses an event in which he or she believes that there is a threat to life or physical integrity and safety and experiences fear, terror, or helplessness. While in the past, the term was primarily associated with veterans of war, as the definition of PTSD has widened, so too has our understanding of the scope of individuals affected. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 6 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their life.
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into 4 categories:
- Intrusive memories
- Negative changes in thinking and mood
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions.
While the first three are often best addressed with the help of a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, the physical and emotional reactions faced by those suffering from PTSD offer an opportunity for holistic healing and support.
This is Your Body and Brain on PTSD
Symptoms of hyperarousal caused by PTSD can include:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
The Hippocampus In Ptsd Survivors
The hippocampus may change the most after severe traumatic stress. It regulates memory, and the ability to distinguish past from present. It stores and re-activates memories in response to certain stimuli. The hippocampus of PTSD survivors is measurably smaller, and does not separate past and present or read cues from ones surroundings as it otherwise would. This change may explain the experience of flashbacks, or sudden panic attacks. Fortunately new ways to cope can be learned.
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Arousal/hyperarousal Processing In The Amygdala
The amygdala receives extensive arousal/hyperarousal inputs ,1), which is evidenced by neuroanatomical, neuroimaging, and physiological findings. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems project via multiple pathways to the amygdala in rodent and monkey. Visceral sensory nerves of the autonomic nervous system that innervate these organs project to spinal cord neurons, which relay information sequentially via thalamus and insula to the amygdala. A major medullary pathway has similar origins, and projects sequentially through the visceral region of the nucleus of the solitary tract in the medulla, parabrachial complex , thalamus, and insula to multiple amygdaloid nuclei . Functional activation of the human respiratory system can be elicited by such methods as adding resistive respiratory loads to an external breathing circuit, and the resulting brain activations have been neuroimaged. A common finding of such studies is that the activated brain regions include the amygdala .
The hypothalamus is a further arousal-related system, which projects substantially to multiple amygdaloid nuclei, in rodent neuroanatomical studies . Consistent with the neuroanatomy, electrical stimulation of parts of the hypothalamus and PBC was found to evoke responses in amygdala neurons, predominantly in the central nucleus .
Can Ptsd Cause Complications
An important part of living with PTSD is understanding the side effects it can cause, and finding ways to cope with those complications. PTSD can disrupt many aspects of your life, from your career to your relationships to your health. It can also increase your risk of other mental health issues, including:
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Is A Mental Health Condition Caused By Extreme Prolonged Or Repetitive Trauma It Is A Normal Reaction To An Abnormal Situation
Over the years, PTSD has been referenced many times in relation to soldiers returning from war. This association has led to a stigma, where people believe that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that can only be developed during war and that diagnosis of this condition for anything else is not taken as seriously. In reality, PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event.
It is important to note that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
Its also important to note that the memory of a traumatic event can bury itself deep in a persons mind and cause strange, unexplained feelings many months, or years later.
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
PTSD sufferers can find it difficult to discuss their feelings with friends and family, even a doctor. Someone suffering from PTSD may not know what they are experiencing and will often try to cope with the symptoms alone due to feelings of shame, fear or guilt. PTSD can look and feel a lot like depression or rage, but there are key differences and it affects all aspects of a persons life, both at home and at work.
Hypervigilance Visual Intrusions And Flashbacks And Modulation Of Visual Cortex
The amygdala likely drives enhancements of visual cortex functioning. The amygdala projects densely to all levels of the ventral visual stream, from anterior TE to posterior V1, according to neuroanatomical tracing studies in monkey . Moreover, examination of amygdaloid boutons adjacent to TE and V1 neurons, revealed that the boutons formed asymmetric synapses and predominantly onto dendritic spines. Such synapses are normally excitatory, suggesting amygdala-visual cortex projections enhance visual function . This is further supported by behavioral and neuroimaging studies. In an attentional blink paradigm, neutral and negative words were briefly presented at short temporal intervals, and the findings were that healthy controls processed negative words with greater accuracy than neutral words. This effect, however, was not found in patients with bilateral or left amygdala lesions . In an fMRI study, fearful faces relative to neutral faces elicited enhanced activation in visual cortical areas in healthy controls. Such visual cortex enhancement, however, did not occur in patients who had amygdala lesions due to sclerosis, but structurally intact visual cortex . Together, these findings are consistent with amygdala dependent enhancement of visual function.
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Why Is Studying Ptsd Important For Singaporeans
Studying the psychological effects of PTSD is important to a number of different disciplines.
Singaporean researchers can identify what factors contribute to the development of PTSD and other traumatic stress reactions when studying PTSD populations like war veterans or survivors of natural disasters.
This information helps doctors improve existing treatments for any given disorder, as well as help mental health professionals, understand what coping behaviors common in trauma-exposed groups are most helpful. Finally, understanding how various personality traits influence response to trauma can help educators create more appropriate interactions with traumatized Singaporean students, soldiers, or victims.
When Should You Seek Help
If youre thinking of hurting yourself, you need to call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
If youre experiencing hyperarousal or other PTSD symptoms, you should see a doctor. Theyll perform a physical exam to make sure no underlying medical disorders are causing your symptoms. They may also perform a blood test, depending on what other physical symptoms you have.
If your doctor suspects youre experiencing PTSD, theyll refer you to a mental healthcare provider, often a psychologist or psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication, while psychologists arent.
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How I Deal With Hyperarousal Symptoms Of Ptsd
Just like everything else about PTSD, there are things that work for me when it comes to dealing with hyperarousal symptoms that may not work for everyone. What I have found helpful when it comes to minimizing them are the following:
I would love to hear what works for you when it comes to dealing with the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD. Please share in the comments below.
What Does Ptsd Feel Like And Who Can Experience It
We often think of PTSD as a risk for soldiers, for people fighting in war, or those doing military service. Although it is a risk for them, PTSD can develop from any event that feels overwhelmingly threatening or scary to the person involved. It can happen to anyone, at any age, at home or anywhere.
Domestic violence, rape, child abuse and neglect, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, car accidents these are just a few of the traumas that can lead to PTSD. It can also come from events that appear far less dramatic such as ongoing bullying, a playground accident, or a medical procedure during childhood. It is important to recognize the myth that only obviously life-threatening events carry the risk of PTSD. Rather, PTSD is the result of the reactions and/or perceptions of the person traumatized.
The difference between PTSD and other types of traumatic experiences is that unwanted symptoms stay they keep returning and intruding on ones present awareness.
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Hyperarousal Signs Of Ptsd
Some signs of post-traumatic stress disorder have to do with the brain and bodys hyperarousal in the wake of a traumatic threat. Because the brain interprets the traumatic event as a present danger, natural fight-or-flight reactions become engaged and sometimes prolonged during re-experiencing of the event. In combination with general hypervigilance that so often accompanies PTSD, these signs of hyperarousal can amount to an exhausting and stressful experience for the survivor.
Insomnia is one PTSD symptom that is associated with hyperarousal. Many survivors with PTSD have significant difficulty falling asleep and staying in a deep sleep throughout the night. Due to persistent fears, some individuals with PTSD also sleep with the lights on, making it difficult to obtain a restful, REM-level of sleep.
Irritability is another symptom of hyperarousal, where survivors become prone to angry outbursts over slight issues. This may impact relationships and job performance. Many survivors also experience short-term memory difficulties, making focus, expression, and cognition a struggle.