Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD

PTSD is a term that has been used since the 1980s to describe symptoms that occur after a severe trauma and you may have heard the previous term shell shock as being a way to describe the effects of war on soldiers. Most people associate PTSD as something that a soldier or rape victim might experience but any serious event that shocks, overwhelms, and frightens us can cause feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leave us feeling emotionally scarred.

 

Traumatic childbirth, being bullied, being involved in a car crash, being present when someone dies or a natural disaster can overwhelm the nervous system and create trauma.1 in 3 people who experience a threat to their survival go on to develop PTSD. It can not only affect the person who is in direct contact with the traumatic event but also any witnesses or emergency services who are there to support the victim and witness the trauma unfold.

After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected but if the feelings don’t fade, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms can develop instantly or can come to the surface weeks or months later.

What causes PTSD?

When you experience a stressful event, your nervous system reacts with the fight-or-flight response. Your heart pounds faster, your blood pressure rises, and your muscles tighten, increasing your strength and reaction speed. Once the danger has passed, your nervous system calms your body, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, and winds back down to its normal state.

A good way to explain it is if you have ever been in a car and all of a sudden you hear a police siren, your automatic response could be shock, fear, racing heart, sweating and you may feel that the police are going to stop you. And then the police car drives past siren’s still blaring and it takes a short while for your breathing to return to normal and your body temperature and tingling to subside.

This is a normal response of the amygdala that responds to a perceived threat and once the threat has passed the nervous system returns to normal.

The amygdala’s role is to alert us to danger and stimulate the body’s ‘fight or fight’ reaction. Normally, all initial sensations associated with a threatening experience are passed to the amygdala and formed into a sensory memory, which in turn is passed on to the hippocampus and from there to the neocortex where it is translated into a verbal or narrative memory and stored.

When an event appears life-threatening, however, there can be sudden information overload and the sensory memories stay trapped in the amygdala instead of being passed on to, and made sense of by, the neocortex. While trapped in the amygdala, the trauma memory has no identifiable meaning. It cannot be described, only re-experienced in some sensory form, such as panic attacks or flashbacks.

PTSD occurs when you experience too much stress in a situation. Even though the danger has passed, your nervous system is “stuck,” unable to return to its normal state of balance and you’re unable to move on from the event. Recovering from PTSD involves helping your nervous system become “unstuck” so you can heal and move on from the trauma.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

  • Reliving the experience through flashbacks, dreams or nightmares.
  • Recurrent, involuntary and intrusive memories.
  • Feeling numb or disconnected from yourself or others.
  • Negative alternations in mood.
  • Difficulty controlling your emotions. Feelings of anger, shame, guilt and horror.
  • Problems relating to others.
  • Problems in relationships. Shutting yourself off and feeling alienated from others.
  • Feeling worthless or defeated.
  • Hyperarousal such as anger, irritability or sleep issues.
  • Hyper-vigilance such as feeling on constant alert. Or being overly sensory to stimulus such as smell and noise.
  • Avoidance or situations that remind you of the trauma.

Coping strategies for PTSD

  • Take time to relax. Use breathing techniques, meditation, massage and yoga to calm your nervous system.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. When you’re struggling with difficult emotions and traumatic memories, you may want to turn to something to avoid the feelings, but substance use worsens many symptoms of PTSD, interferes with treatment, and can add to problems in your relationships.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat a balanced diet at regular intervals to keep your body healthy and mood and energy levels stable. Avoid caffeine that can interfere with mood and sleep, and drink at least 2 litres of water a day.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can trigger anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours each night. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual (listen to calming music, watch a funny show, or read something light) and make your bedroom as quiet, dark, and soothing as possible.
  • Journal how you are feeling. Writing down how you feel and any troubling thoughts can help to get it out of your head and become calmer.
  • Get professional help. Speaking to someone trained in helping people with PTSD will help you to work through the thoughts and deal with the feelings caused by the trauma.

How can hypnotherapy help?

Most people suffering with PTSD are offered talking therapies to work through the events and associated feelings connected to the trauma but this can be exhausting and traumatic in itself as you relive it step by step sometimes making the fear response worse.

Hypnotherapy can provide an alternative solution as it works on the subconscious part of the mind where the trauma is stored in a disassociated state. While working on the trauma response your mind spends time somewhere that is pleasant, like a tropical beach or a sanctuary. Hypnotherapy allows you to view the event from a different perspective or equip you with whatever tools your imagination can provide to deal with the events.

Trauma can cause a person to disconnect from their own internal sense of safety. So, the sooner the emotions are managed, the sooner the person will recover. Hypnotherapy works at your own pace as you return to your safe place in your mind whenever you reach your limit. You will learn how to reduce anxiety, calm the nervous system, lift your mood and allow the mind to process the experience and move it to a part of the memory that knows the trauma has now passed.

Hypnotherapy can help you understand how PTSD is affecting you

This understanding will come more from my experience as a therapist to objectively listen to your individual traumatic account. Your medical history and value system prior to your trauma can heavily bias your ability to cope with the trauma. When you can appreciate how your Post-traumatic stress disorder is affecting you, it can reduce some of your stress symptoms and help you be open to learning new ways of managing your PTSD.

Hypnotherapy can help you to reduce stress

Increased stress levels influence you to perceive innocent situations as threatening ones. Whilst you stay on the “high alert”, you continue to believe that a panic attack that happened in a specific location or social occasion is a new situation to keep away from.

Avoidance behaviour is your attempt to cope with your fear, but it only makes those situations worse in your mind. Hypnotherapy incorporates stress reduction as an integral part of the treatment diminishing your state of hyper-vigilance. Learning breathing techniques can also help you to reduce your stress symptoms.

Hypnotherapy can help you identify what is triggering your symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder triggers can be internally provoked e.g. by an emotion or physical symptom such as a racing heartbeat. They can also be externally generated by events, situations or objects that remind you of the trauma e.g. from reading a similar news item, going to a nearby location or a seeing a person that looked like someone from the original trauma.

By identifying and dissociating these triggers, you can have more control over these situations and reduce your distressing reactions to them.

Hypnotherapy can help you to safely process the trauma in stages

Distressing flashbacks are your mind’s attempt to correct the fragmented processing and storage of the traumatic incident. Visualisation in hypnosis can help you to reprocess and store the traumatic events in a detached and safe way.

As a form of graduated exposure, this technique has the benefit of reducing the frequency and severity of anxiety that you are suffering when a flashback is triggered.

Hypnotherapy can reduce your PTSD symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms such as flashbacks and detachment can be considered as trance or dream states, similar to the awareness experienced in hypnosis. But PTSD trance states are distressing, whilst hypnotic “trance” is a pleasant relaxed state.

PTSD will keep you locked into your traumatic experience replaying the trauma over and over again. The awareness in hypnosis however can used to therapeutically change the content of the flashbacks helping you to have more control over these symptoms.

Hypnotherapy can release the emotions that caused your PTSD

Strong negative emotions and beliefs affect the way that you interpret and cope with traumatic stress. They can continue to cause your Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and often prevent you from closing “chapters” of your trauma.

For example flashbacks can express beliefs such as self-blame, guilt and shame as themes that want to be processed and released. Hypnotherapy can provide the platform for emotional release, helping you to re-frame the trauma and reduce the severity of the symptoms that you are now having.