A new emerging field in health is knowledge about the effects on the body of Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-PTSD.  New ways of scanning the brain have shown that PTSD occurs when the brain fails to process an event from the present into the past, creating a memory.  It can happen to anyone, whatever your previous life experience or emotional resilience. 

No one gets through life without experiencing a traumatic event, but not everyone is left with trauma.  Trauma is when the brain is still reacting as if that event will occur at any moment: even years later.  To resolve these events we need a sense that the event is over, that we did fight back or manage to run away.  If we were not able to do these actions because we were suffering ongoing abuse or are undergoing medical treatment that we need, or were physically incapacitated by an accident we can be left with Trauma.  You could say it is connected to a sense of control and feeling we can act to save ourselves.  

 

Upto 1 in 10 people have PTSD, and its twice as common in women.  

 

Symptoms of PTSD include: 

Hypervigilence (being alert for danger) this can cause anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, tension creating chronic pain.  The hypervigilence can cause a sense of isolation and lack of connection with others.  It can also cause a limited sense of your own future and lack of ability to plan and make decisions.  

 

PTSD is characterised by nightmares and flashbacks created by triggers associated by the brain with the original event.  Flashbacks aren’t just images transporting you like you see in the movies, they can be images, but also sounds, smells, physical sensations and emotions.  People refer to being highjacked by one or all of these as your body reacts as if that event is occurring right now.  

 

Coping with these symptoms commonly leads to substance abuse and sadly sometimes suicide.  

 

It’s not all bad news, there are ways to help.  The best help is psychotherapy with a therapist trained in Trauma resolution.  They can help release the sympathetic charge still in the body and make sense of the event.  During a trigger Orientation is helpful; looking around yourself slowly and noticing all the things that have nothing to do with the event so the brain registers the here and now.  

 

Cranial Osteopathy can he helpful to the body.  It can help calm the nervous system and increase the sense of safety and ability to relax; releasing physical tension.  I have been on several training courses specifically aimed at working with patients who have suffered trama.  How to help them and tailor treatment to avoid their triggers.

Other ways to help yourself.

Some people find focusing on their breath helpful.  This is personal, for some this is a trigger so only use breathing if it helps.  The simplest way to try is to use a parasympathetic breath where the out breath is longer than the in breath.  This encourages the nervous system to relax.  Other ways to help is gentle movement such a yoga.  Some find burning nervous energy helps with more vigorous exercise.  Journalling can help; especially if you find you can’t talk about it yet.  Making yourself feel safe is really helpful, that might be fitting more locks to your doors, or an alarm so you feel safe at night.  Making yourself a safe/warm place with nice music.  Manage your anxiety with what it needs, not challenge it.  

 

If you want to learn more the internet is full of resources.  A classic is the book The Body keeps the score by Bessel van den Kolk.  Or one of Peter Levine’s books on Somatic experiencing.  Both these men are leaders in the field and have done much to advance understanding and treatment.   Peter Levine has also written a book aimed at parents and children. (Yes children also get PTSD.  With them you are looking for change in behaviour, bad dreams, clinging to their parents, becoming withdrawn and not speaking etc).

 

There is a charity in the UK www.ptsduk.org with more resources.