What is PTSD / Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
People think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental health condition that is triggered by an incredibly traumatic or terrifying event, such as combat exposure, violence or assault. Yes, that is PTSD, but it can be so much more.
It is estimated that 1 out of 30 Americans is suffering from PTSD with the incidence being much higher for those who were in the military. People can be exposed to a traumatic event and not develop PTSD as well. Many people suffer lower grade traumatic events that they do not even recognize is causing their symptoms of anxiety and depression. Left untreated, PTSD can ruin lives and even lead to suicide.
What causes PTSD?
PTSD is caused by a trauma response in your brain. Our brains are hard-wired to be aware of danger and alert us when something threatening is happening to us. It is a very normal and healthy response to feel the symptoms of a trauma response directly after the traumatic experience, but with time the symptoms should go away and the brain should return to its pre-trauma state. In PTSD the brain begins to hard-wire in the trauma pattern, making the symptoms worse and persistent. The more the trauma brain pattern is used, the more it becomes the new operating mode of your brain.
PTSD can occur on a continuum and many people suffer from the symptoms of PTSD after a less significant event. This is because the event created a trauma response in the individual that it happened to, just as the same in a larger scale trauma. Many times lower-grade experiences can cause the same symptoms that are seen in a full blown PTSD event. Ongoing verbal and psychological abuse, not feeling safe in one’s home or environment, losing one’s job or spouse unexpectedly all can cause symptoms of PTSD.
Common causes of PTSD involve:
- Childhood abuse
- Car accidents
- Physical assault, including rape
- Natural disasters
- Exposure to violence
- Seeing someone killed or hurt
- Being held against your will
- Military combat
- Other incidents that are perceived as life threatening
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
A primary hallmark symptom of PTSD involves reliving portions of the event or experience over and over in one’s mind. If an experience creates a trauma pattern in that person’s brain in causes it to “loop” pieces of the experience. So the person may be out to dinner with friends and for a fleeting moment, a scene or a tidbit from the trauma experience passes through the person’s mind. These reactions can be intense or mild but usually persistent. In this way, the person is really never free from being affected by the traumatic experience.
Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Inability to stop thinking about the traumatic event or experience
- Avoidance of people, places, and things that are a reminder of the event
- Increased anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Flashbacks and nightmares of parts of what happened during the traumatic event
- Inability to recall some parts of the experience
- Feeling jumpy and on guard all the time
- Feeling depressed or lacking motivation
- Feeling angry and irritable
- Socially isolating oneself
- Feeling numb inside
For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:
- Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play
- Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event
How do I know if I have PTSD?
You can know if your brain is using a trauma pattern by having it evaluated using Quantitative Electroencephalogram (qEEG). A qEEG “Brain Map” can show you if your brain is using a trauma pattern and if so, where in your brain is it happening and to what degree. A 2012 study showed that qEEG Brain Mapping is an effective way to identify and isolate the brain changes that occur in PTSD. The changes typically involve the frontal lobe and temporal lobe brain functioning and can be easily seen on a brain map.
qEEG Brain Mapping can be used to differentiate PTSD from other brain disorders that have the same or very similar symptoms such as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).
Having a qEEG Brain Map helps to:
- Show that the symptoms and behaviors that you are experiencing are not imaginary. This helps reduce emotional isolation and the stigma associated with PTSD.
- You gain better understanding of what is actually going on in your brain and how it is affecting your behavior
- It helps treatment to be targeted and individualized specifically to your brain
Why do I have PTSD?
Doctors aren’t sure why some people get PTSD and other have the same experience and don’t It is probably a combination of the perfect storm of factors with a complex mix of:
- Stressful experiences and your stress levels at the time of the traumatic event.
- The amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through in your life
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression
- Inherited temperament features of your personality
- Your overall brain health and the way your brain regulates the neuro-chemicals in our brain in response to stress
If I’ve experienced a traumatic event, how do I decrease my risk for PTSD?
After surviving a traumatic event, many people have PTSD-like symptoms at first. You might feel unable to stop thinking about what’s happened, looping it or parts of it in your mind over and over. You may have increased fear, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, you may want to crawl under a rock — all are common reactions to trauma. Recognize this and let yourself feel the pain of the trauma. Give yourself a mental health day to process your feelings and debrief yourself on the incident. The majority of people exposed to trauma do not develop long-term post-traumatic stress disorder especially those who can work through their emotions surrounding the experience at the time of its occurrence.
The key is to get yourself help and support in a timely fashion. This can prevent normal stress reactions from getting worse and from an escalation into PTSD. Remember, the more the brain is used the more it will become hard-wired in. The key is to stop using the pattern as soon as possible. This may mean turning to family and friends who will listen and offer comfort. If you feel that you need more support, you should seek out a mental health professional for a brief course of therapy. Support from others is essential and helps to avoid negative patterns that can make your trauma worse, including unhealthy coping mechanism, such alcohol or drug use.
If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic event and struggle with PTSD, we can help you by performing a qEEG Brain Map to show you exactly the brain patterns that your brain is using. After identifying the brain pattern(s), we create and individualized treatment plan that uses Neurofeedback Therapy to retrain your brain to create new, better patterns to alleviate your suffering.