Why Is Childhood Trauma So Damaging
Physical Fitness Children who have been subjected to abuse or trauma may have a heightened stress response. This may affect their capacity to control their emotions, cause sleep problems, weaken their immunological function, and raise their risk of a variety of physical disorders as they grow older.
How Ptsd Affects Brain Circuitry
If youre experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder , its important to understand how the different parts of your brain function. Post-traumatic stress is a normal response to traumatic events. However, PTSD is a more serious condition that impacts brain function, and it often results from traumas experienced during combat, disasters, or violence.
Your brain is equipped with an alarm system that normally helps ensure your survival. With PTSD, this system becomes overly sensitive and triggers easily. In turn, the parts of your brain responsible for thinking and memory stop functioning properly. When this occurs, its hard to separate safe events happening now from dangerous events that happened in the past.
Trauma And The Amygdala
The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and is responsible for regulating ones emotional responses to an array of different stimuli. However, if traumatic experiences damage this part of the brain, it can become challenging for ones emotions to be monitored or processed logically, leading to extreme emotional reactions. This can be either drastic emotions that seem blown out of proportion or inexplicable emotions that may not align with what a person is experiencing. As a result, extreme emotional responses can become common as unregulated, extreme survival reactions. This may lead to prevailing feelings of intense depression, fear, and anxiety as the mind continues to dive deeper into survival mode because of these unregulated emotional responses.
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How Does Trauma Affect The Brain
When we experience a traumatic event, our brain chemistry and functioning changes in response to the emotional and physical consequences of that event.
Traumatic events include a wide range of experiences, including:
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Death of a loved one
- Financial, professional, or personal loss
There is no standard definition of a traumatic experience for everyone, and each of these experiences takes a unique toll on us as individuals. While all of us experience traumatic stress in different ways, our brains process stress in mostly predictable patterns. In general, there are three major areas of our brain that are shaped by stressful experiences. These are:
- The hippocampus, which helps control memory, learning, and interpretation of information. This area of the brain may become less active under stress and, in fact, may actually shrink. This shrinkage reduces the amount of information and memories we can effectively process at one time. In addition, a smaller and less active hippocampus means we are less likely to be able to process any new information when we are experiencing traumatic stress.
- The amygdala, which helps us process our emotions. During periods of intense stress, the amygdalas role in the brain is to serve as an alarm system, alerting the rest of the brain to potential risk. While this is useful in life-or-death situations, the amygdala can be triggered by traumatic stress, too, causing the brain to enter fight-or-flight mode over and over again.
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S Of The Brain Impacted By Ptsd
Certain structures of the brain are closely related to some of the symptoms of PTSD. These structures include the amygdala and hippocampus several parts of the prefrontal cortex the mid-anterior cingulate cortex and the right inferior frontal gyrus.
PTSD causes the hyper-activation of some brain structures while other areas become hypoactive.
Both the amygdala and the mid-anterior cingulate cortex become over-stimulated when a person has PTSD. However, the hippocampus, right inferior frontal gyrus, ventromedial PFC, dorsolateral PFC, and orbitofrontal cortex all become hypoactive, some to the point of atrophy.
Treating Pain And Anxiety Without Pills
In patients who can be easily hypnotized, hypnosis sessions have been shown to be effective in lessening chronic pain, the pain of childbirth and other medical procedures treating smoking addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder and easing anxiety or phobias. The new findings about how hypnosis affects the brain might pave the way toward developing treatments for the rest of the population those who arent naturally as susceptible to hypnosis.
Were certainly interested in the idea that you can change peoples ability to be hypnotized by stimulating specific areas of the brain, said Spiegel.
A treatment that combines brain stimulation with hypnosis could improve the known analgesic effects of hypnosis and potentially replace addictive and side-effect-laden painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs, he said. More research, however, is needed before such a therapy could be implemented.
The studys lead author is Heidi Jiang, a former research assistant at Stanford who is currently a graduate student in neuroscience at Northwestern University.
- Sarah C.P. Williams is a freelance science writer.
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How To Treat Ptsd:
Considering how largely PTSD affects the brain, the treatment for PTSD is not always a straightforward endeavor. However, there have been studies that have confirmed many benefits for various types of PTSD treatments. When addressing the symptoms of PTSD, it is important to remember that the treatment process is just that a process. This means that it may take a few months to notice significant results and that progress may be slow at times. Nevertheless, seeking treatment for symptoms of PTSD is a beneficial way to address the constant traumatic stress resulting from a traumatic event. The sooner treatment is sought after the traumatic event, generally the better the results.
At NJ Family Psychiatry and Therapy, we specialize in treating individuals with PTSD, especially those who have been victims or witnesses of violence, motor-vehicle accidents, or work-related accidents. Depending on the individual and the case, we offer three distinct approaches to treating PTSD: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medications, and biofeedback, also known as brain training.
A Brief Recap Of Post
Our body cascades many chemical reactions during a frightening event that set off the fight/flight/freeze response readying us to react quickly to the danger. Most peoples chemical responses will return to baseline, but others will maintain the chemical reactions long enough to cause damage.
Although most people believe PTSD to be a diagnosis that only forms in adults, t this is not true. Children also suffer incredibly traumatic events and will form the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to Amen Clinics, the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder are too numerous and varied to list in this piece however, they may include:
- Military combat
- Witnessing someone getting hurt or killed
- Witnessing the death of a loved one
You may have noticed that pandemic made the list. With the onslaught of COVID-19, it is predicted the number of people affected by complex post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder will increase dramatically.
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What Brain Areas Are Implicated In Ptsd
PTSD symptoms develop due to dysfunction in two key regions:
This is a small almond-shaped structure located deep in the middle of the temporal lobe. The amygdala is designed to:
- Detect threats in the environment and activate the fight or flight response
- Activate the sympathetic nervous system to help you deal with the threat
- Help you store new emotional or threat-related memories
The Prefrontal Cortex
The Prefrontal Cortex is located in the frontal lobe just behind your forehead. The PFC is designed to:
- Regulate attention and awareness
- Determine the meaning and emotional significance of events
- Regulate emotions
- Inhibit or correct dysfunctional reactions
When your brain detects a threat, the amygdala initiates a quick, automatic defensive response involving the release of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and glucose to rev up your brain and body. Should the threat continue, the amygdala communicates with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to release cortisol. Meanwhile, the medial part of the prefrontal cortex consciously assesses the threat and either accentuates or calms down the fight or flight response.
Studies of response to threat in people with PTSD show:
- A hyper reactive amygdala
- A less activated medial PFC
In other words, the amygdala reacts too strongly to a potential threat while the medial PFC is impaired in its ability to regulate the threat response.
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The Brain Changes Caused By Trauma
While alterations in behavior are the hallmarks of PTSD, the causes for these changes involve changes to significant brain structures. One study using functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that brain structure and function might underlie the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The brain areas that seem to have been consistently implicated in PTSD have included the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex . Also involved in the changes seen in those living with PTSD is the amygdala .
Several studies have shown that PTSD is associated with a reduction in the hippocampus volume during fMRI and MRI examinations. This volume change can mean that the person experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder will experience memory disturbances and difficulty learning.
The amygdala volume in people with PTSD decreased, leaving the person living with PTSD easily triggered by events it perceives as dangerous, whether this perception is correct or not. As a result, the person lives in a state of constant alertness and fear and can be easily triggered into a flashback of the event that caused their post-traumatic stress disorder .
Gateway Foundation Offers Trauma Therapy To Help Heal The Brain
Identifying the core source of trauma is often essential for getting on the path toward healing. However, understanding PTSD and the brain is only the first step to recovery. Gateway Foundation offers trauma therapy and dual-diagnosis treatment programs for people with co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD and substance use disorder. Our program will help you heal from trauma while you work to overcome substance addiction. To learn more about our treatment and therapy options, contact us today.
Cognitive Function And Brain Structure In Ptsd
The meaning of findings related to deficits in memory and the hippocampus in PTSD, and questions related to the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors, has become an important topic in the field of PTSD and stress research. There are three possible models, taking into account genetic or environmental factors, which have been proposed to explain smaller hippocampal volume in PTSD: Model A , Model B , and Model C .166–169 In Model C , smaller hippocampal volume represents a premorbid risk factor for PTSD. In support of this model Pitman and colleagues170 have demonstrated that lower premilitary IQ is associated with combat-related PTSD, as well as finding a correlation between PTSD symptoms and hippocampal volume in twin brothers.151 Model A states that stress leads to damage or inhibition of neurogenesis via hypercortisolemia, decreased BDNF, or increased glutamate. Model B states that a combination of environmental and genetic factors leads to deficits in hippocampal function and structure. Showing that an intervention like medication changes hippocampal volume and cognition would provide support for at least a partial contribution of the environment to the outcomes of interest.
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Therapy At Highland Springs
Another common treatment to help survivors who are recovering from emotional trauma is therapy. There are many different types of therapy, but the main goal is to change the thought process of the victim. This may involve talking, exercises, or other types of treatment.
Here at Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we have a PTSD Treatment Center to help victims of trauma heal and overcome their PTSD. Our therapists and clinicians are experienced in PTSD and emotional trauma. They have specialized training and high-level expertise that allow them to customize trauma treatment options according to individuals.
At Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we combine cognitive behavioral therapy and desensitization therapy. Our cognitive behavioral therapy helps our therapists and patients identify the root of the trauma and triggers that bring fear and agitation to the surface.
Once these triggers are identified, the therapist and client work together to replace these emotions with more rational, neutral emotions and overcome emotional trauma.
Desensitization therapy will then help the client heal by verbalizing the trauma that occurred in the past. This allows them to release emotions connected with the event and decrease flashbacks and other symptoms. Desensitization is all about acceptance and moving on.
The client will be able to leave their trauma in the past and learn to live a more healthy lifestyle free from PTSD symptoms.
How The Brain Heals After Trauma
The brains plasticity allows it to heal itself after a traumatic event, but in many cases, this process takes time and patience. Fortunately, clinically proven treatment methods are available. One therapeutic approach is psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Talk therapy takes multiple forms, including cognitive behavioral therapy.
During CBT, you learn coping skills that help you manage stress levels. The therapy also changes your response to stimuli. For example, if a memory triggers a specific reaction, CBT can alter your associations with that memory, reducing its traumatic effect on you.
Another form of talk therapy is group therapy. During group therapy sessions, you have a chance to heal by connecting and communicating with others who might have a similar experience or who are also going through PTSD.
Along with talk therapy, some people also benefit from medication. Medically managed antidepressants and other prescription drugs can reduce PTSD symptoms. When used in conjunction with talk therapy, medication can help promote healing.
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy And Ptsd:
Cognitive behavioral therapy works to explore the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and then make changes to these areas that promote a better quality of life. It is believed that cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals with PTSD by changing negative associations into positive ones and by coping with unhealthy understandings of their experience.
Another thing cognitive behavioral therapy can help PTSD patients with is unhelpful thought patterns, or distortions, such as overgeneralizing bad outcomes, negative thinking, and catastrophic thinking. This is especially important for individuals with PTSD, as they tend to get stuck in these negative thought patterns. Creating awareness to their negative thought patterns is one of the first steps to helping them conceptualize their experience.
What Is The Hippocampus
The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system describes a group of brain structures that surround the brain stem. The brain structures that make up the limbic system play a major role in how one experiences certain emotions , motivations, and memory.
The hippocampus is responsible for the ability to store and retrieve memories. People who have experienced some kind of damage to their hippocampus may have difficulties storing and recalling information. Along with other limbic structures, the hippocampus also plays a role in a person’s ability to overcome fear responses.
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