Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an alarmingly common mental health condition. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 1 in 10 people are afflicted in the United States. An understanding of PTSD among war veterans is now common knowledge, but many non-veterans also contract the disorder through childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse, exposure to domestic violence as well as many kinds of traumatizing events sustained in adulthood.
A number of former mental health diagnoses are now being reevaluated as forms of PTSD, including Borderline personality disorder and mood dysregulation disorders. New neuroscience research is identifying both the brain areas involved in PTSD and new therapies that treat the condition as a brain injury, rather than a purely mental or behavioral problem.
Trauma has an everyday definition and a clinical definition. In everyday language, something as mundane as getting a parking ticket might be called a trauma. For mental health professionals, trauma is a life event in which the person is faced with the prospect of actual or perceived imminent death, physical violation, or the witnessing of these events occurring to others. Clinical trauma is about real life and death situations and events in which the person’s safety, life or physical dignity are violated or threatened.
The Ultimate Guide To Healing From PTSD – Follow The Step By Step Process
Trauma can also be short or long-term and of a natural or human cause. Each of these variables typically results in a slightly different set of symptoms in the person with PTSD. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event develops PTSD. The reasons for these difference between people is not yet well understood, but in-born temperament, early family experiences and general health are some of the suspected variables.
People who go through traumas of longer duration, and those who suffer traumas caused by other people usually develop the most severe symptoms of PTSD. High tech research done in recent years has shown conclusively that damage to the brain and nervous system occurs in PTSD. It is reversible, although it takes time. Improvement of symptoms, and even full recovery, are possible for those who find an appropriate treatment plan and stick to it.
In healing PTSD recognizing that you have the condition. This is not always easy, because the trauma may not be consciously recalled, especially traumas involving childhood abuse. Even though the trauma may not be evident, the symptoms are unmistakable. The afflicted person can experience mood swings, sleep disturbance, nightmares, over-reaction to everyday events, racing thoughts, hypervigilance, avoidance, or obsession with anything that reminds the person of the trauma, inappropriate anger, self-injury and other destructive behavior.
Understanding the condition itself. If you have PTSD, you cannot just “get over it”, “move on”, or “let it go” as many well intentioned people may suggest to you. PTSD is a physical injury to the brain and nervous system caused by an excessive and sustained level of stress hormones like cortisol that are released during and after trauma. It is as impossible to get over PTSD by will power as it is to get over a herniated disc by deciding you are better.
Committing yourself to the process of healing from PTSD. You are re-training the more primitive areas of your brain, including the amygdala which acts like the alarm center for the brain and body. You must work consistently for a period of time to get results. Just as if you were learning to play the piano or ride a bike, which are also brain rewiring tasks, you must practice re-training and calming exercises each day for many days, weeks or even months.
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Healing is about finding some kind of human support for encouragement and acknowledgement along the way. Unfortunately, this can be challenging, because many people who have never had PTSD do not understand the condition and how to treat it, or may be unable to handle hearing about the trauma or symptoms. Luckily, there are increasing numbers of drop-in support groups, Internet forums and chat rooms for people healing from PTSD. A well-trained mental health professional is also an important resource to seek out.
Learning mindfulness and connecting to your body through breath, yoga, meditation or some other daily practice that slows down your autonomic nervous system and brings you into the present moment. In the early stages of healing, it may be almost impossible to stay present and connected to the moment. Racing thoughts, waves of physical discomfort and disturbing mental images are all PTSD symptoms. Nonetheless, developing a daily practice routine of mindful calming of your nervous system is the beginning of rewiring your brain and the core of the healing process.
Sticking with it. Once you (and hopefully, a supportive therapist) have charted out a daily program of calming mindfulness practices and life-style adjustments that help your nervous system calm down and heal, resisting the urge to give up too soon becomes the next challenge. Some cases of PTSD can be overcome fairly quickly, especially those caused by a single event, like a car accident, rape or an earthquake or hurricane. For these survivors of trauma, as little as a few weeks of therapy might be enough. For war veterans and victims of domestic and childhood abuse, six months or a year may be needed to retrain the brain.
The newly developed, neurologically based therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reintegration, (EMDR) has been shown repeatedly in research studies to be much more effective than talk therapy or drugs for resolving disturbing memories and eliminating the symptoms of PTSD. Some people find complete relief in as few as one or two sessions. Others need as many as 20, but the vast majority of people who undergo this form of therapy report significant improvement.
Other steps that are important in healing from PTSD include boosting nutrition, especially nutrients that are important for the brain and nervous system, including B vitamins, magnesium, manganese and Omega-3 fats. Whole foods are always the best source for nutrients, but supplements can be helpful also. Getting enough sleep, eliminating as much stress as possible until you are better and being kind and gentle with yourself are also vital for a full recovery.
PTSD is a serious and debilitating condition in which physical injury to the brain and nervous system have occurred. Healing from PTSD is entirely possible given the right therapies and practices that re-train neural pathways in the brain and body.
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