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Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It’s been over a year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, marking a year of loss, isolation, stress, and uncertainty for many. Throughout this pandemic, mental health has proved to be just as important as physical health. Being an emergency worker, seeing loved ones pass away, or having had COVID-19 could all lead to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

What’s PTSD?  According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event by either experiencing or witnessing it. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and guilt are all common reactions to trauma. However, most people with PTSD can heal on their own after a period of time, while others may get stuck and are unable to move past their trauma. Symptoms of PTSD usually develop soon after the traumatic event, but sometimes they can take several months to appear. 

What causes PTSD? When you experience a stressful event, your nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode: your heart beats quicker, your blood pressure increases, and your muscles tighten. When the danger passes, your nervous system calms your body and reverts back to its normal state. PTSD occurs when you experience too much stress.  So even when the danger passes, your nervous system is unable to “unstick” itself and move on the from the event.  

In August 2020, the CDC published results of a large US web-based survey in which 40.9% endorsed at least 1 adverse mental or behavioral health problem related to the pandemic. Symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder were reported by 26.3%, symptoms of anxiety or depression by 30.9%, substance use to cope by 13.3%, and serious consideration of suicide in the prior days by 10.7%.  

People with PTSD may relive the traumatic experience, suffering from nightmares or recurring thoughts. Individuals may also be easily upset or anxious by anything similar to the traumatic event, causing them to become more upset and emotional than usual. People with PTSD may be particularly jittery, paranoid, or irritable.   

It might be easy for us to accept trauma as being something that will always be with us, but there are ways to heal and improve our lives. When we face our problems head-on, we give ourselves the opportunity for profound shifts to occur. Here are some mind-body techniques for healing trauma: 

  • Meditation. Many survivors of traumatic events report constricted airflow and breathing.  A recent study reported a positive effect of repeating a mantra. 
  • Yoga. Yoga has been shown to reduce physiological arousal in PTSD patients and is believed to affect the pathology of PTSD by improving somatic regulation and body awareness.  
  • Art therapy. Art therapy provides a creative outlet when words fail; patients examine feelings and thoughts about trauma, and by externalizing difficult pieces of their trauma stories, clients begin to access physical experiences. 
  • Acupuncture. One systematic review found acupuncture to be an encouraging treatment for PTSD.  Acupuncture for PTSD is targeting points in the body that help control nervous functioning.   
  • Medical Marijuana. A recent study demonstrates that cannabis can reduce activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that responds to threats.