According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 60% of North Americans experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Trauma is often defined as a “deeply distressing or disastrous event.” Though this accurately describes a great deal of traumatic experience for many people, it can also be the result of systemic oppression, repeated childhood physical or psychological abuse, or an ongoing subtly distressing experience.
Though a traumatic experience is often thought of as an event, it is usually much more. It merely begins with an event that then snowballs into a mental structure that shapes how we see and perceive the world. Some individuals who have experienced trauma will develop PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition marked by intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to a traumatic experience that lasts long after the traumatic event has ended.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) came to the public and medical eye as a diagnosis for traumatized war veterans who continued suffering from intense feelings and thoughts related to their experiences in battle long after their active duty was over. Since then, we have seen PTSD as a diagnosis for survivors of repeated childhood physical or psychological abuse, sexual assault, and rape victims, involvement in a serious accident, or a life-changing loss or event. PTSD affects a person physically, mentally, and emotionally in a very distressing manner. With a myriad of symptoms that include intrusive memories and flashbacks, complete avoidance of trauma reminders, dissociation and hyperactivity, or total alteration in mood and emotional experience, PTSD has been particularly difficult to treat as it shows up differently in people.
A person with PTSD is not merely haunted by painful memories. During an unbearably stressful or dangerous event, the brain reacts by signaling hormones to flood the nervous system to activate the body’s defense mechanisms. Typically, the body will turn off these reactions when the brain has recognized the body is “safe” and then resets itself, which initiates the “rest and recovery” part of the nervous system. Sometimes, if the body is continuously stressed or feeling unsafe, the nervous system never switches back into recovery mode, which then creates prolonged effects on the nervous system and brain. These prolonged effects can manifest in a variety of ways and cause a myriad of health issues.
Sometimes a person can experience a tragic and dangerous event and not develop PTSD. Likewise, someone can experience a life-altering loss that wasn’t necessarily “dangerous” and develop PTSD. These experiences can be triggered in certain scenarios, awakening painful and often disastrous memories and feelings and leaving a person feeling numb and dissociated from the rest of their life.
Treatment for PTSD
Over the years, advancements in mental health therapies and pharmacology to treat various psychological disorders, including PTSD, have been rising. Historically, PTSD has been challenging to treat due to the shame, guilt, lack of resources, and confusion that comes with it. Many individuals who have PTSD also have substance abuse problems, generalized anxiety, depression, and possibly even suicidal thoughts and ideations. The act of talking out or re-living the trauma is precisely what most survivors are trying to avoid. Engaging in talk therapy doesn’t seem logical or safe. Adding pharmacology to manage symptoms can sometimes diminish a person’s sense of reality or identity and possibly make them disassociate even more without the refuge from their initial painful symptoms.
PTSD & The Mindfulness Approach
New evidence has shown that using mindfulness-based approaches has proved promising for individuals struggling with PTSD. Included in these approaches are meditation, yoga, tai chi, movement therapy, EMDR, neurofeedback, body-focused psychotherapy, and anything else involving the mind-body connection.
One of the leading books in the mind-body research community is The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D, which explores the connection between brain, mind, body, and trauma healing. He shares his research from the early 1960s to the modern-day in the healing of trauma and PTSD. After witnessing treatment that failed in thousands of veterans with trauma and PTSD, it became clear that new therapies needed to be explored. He realized PTSD creates patterns that manifest in the brain due to an overriding nervous system, as the brain and body determined the surroundings unsafe. The condition perpetuates a cycle of danger where self-preservation and the body’s defense mechanisms are constantly turned on without any retreat. The process manifests into a myriad of health problems. Dr. Van Der Kolk understood that to break this cycle, we must work with both mind and body in re-programming our patterns and feelings of safety, identity, and self.
There is still some controversy in the psychology communities about the best treatment plans for PTSD. Every individual is different and will require different needs. However, there is a lot of promising evidence for mindfulness and mind-body programs for people who have PTSD and other psychological conditions.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be caused by a single event or the cumulative effect of trauma over time. While there is much discussion over how to treat individuals with PTSD best, it is generally accepted that mind-body programs can help relieve their symptoms. At Avalon Malibu, we understand how difficult it is to live with the unresolved after-effects of trauma and find the right treatment plan to alleviate suffering. We know how PTSD is a physical and psychological condition that is often greatly distressing to an individual and their well-being. We encourage individuals to explore different treatment options that will work for them, such as holistic practices, and understand that recovery and healing are possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with PTSD, please call us today at (844) 857-5992. Our comprehensive program can help you find the peace of mind you need and deserve for a healthy and happy life.