Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that stems from having witnessed or experienced a violent, frightening, or shocking traumatic event. While the term PTSD conjures up images of combat veterans, this psychiatric disorder can happen to anyone after an extreme life event. In addition to combat trauma, a sudden death in the family, a natural disaster, physical or sexual assault, a serious car accident—these are all potential triggering events that can result in PTSD. Using various exposure techniques, PTSD treatment attempts to desensitize the individual from the impact of the memories that can haunt victims for years.
What Causes PTSD?
Why will one person develop PTSD after a trauma while another person experiencing the same trauma will not? Mental health disorders often have complex roots, and PTSD is no exception. Science, as reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, is beginning to shed some light on why there are different responses to the same trauma:
Genetic factors. Research into the causal factors of PTSD using mice has identified stathmin, a protein that when present will form fear memories after being exposed to a fearful situation.
Brain chemistry. Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) is a brain chemical that is released during emotional events. Individuals who lack GRP may form more intense and longer lasting fear memories. In addition, studies have shown that unregulated serotonin due to a certain type of the 5-HRRLPR gene can fuel the fear response. How the brain regulates the hormones and chemicals that are produced in response to a stressful event is also a factor.
Family history. When there is individual or family history of anxiety and depression it can increase the odds of the development of PTSD. PTSD is in the anxiety spectrum of mental health disorders. A history of head injuries or childhood trauma may also be factors in developing PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event will usually appear about three months later. Sometimes, however, these symptoms will not surface for years. The individual must be experiencing symptoms for at least a month, with symptoms causing disruption in work and relationships before receiving a diagnosis of PTSD.
PTSD symptoms fall within four basic categories:
Intrusive thoughts and memories are described as involuntarily experiencing repeated vivid memories, dreams, or flashbacks of the trauma.
People may avoid certain people, places, or things that may trigger distressing memories. They will try to block their thoughts and feelings regarding the trauma, and avoid discussing it.
Negative thoughts and feelings
Negative emotions such as fear, shame, anger, and guilt may plague the individual. A sense of hopelessness and negative thoughts about oneself are also common with PTSD. Individuals will avoid people and activities once enjoyed, and struggle with relationships.
Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Arousal symptoms that are easily triggered, including being easily startled or frightened are common. Angry outbursts, irritability, and insomnia are also symptoms of PTSD. Substance abuse or other self-destructive behaviors may develop as a result.
PTSD Treatment Options
Treating PTSD using a multi-pronged approach can help manage and control the disturbing symptoms. Treatment is usually a combination of individual psychotherapy (talk therapy, both individual and group formats), medication, and stress reduction and relaxation techniques.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, usually three to four month, therapy that helps the individual target irrational or unhealthy patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings caused by the trauma. The therapist guides the individual to identifying the dysfunctional responses to triggers, and then slowly adapts new healthy responses.
- Prolonged exposure therapy, a form of CBT, helps patients gradually face the troubling thoughts and memories of the traumatic event. This allows the individual to slowly process the event while in a safe and supportive environment, and eventually realize that the memories or thoughts are not dangerous.
Holistic and Alternative PTSD Treatment
Helping individuals with PTSD achieve relaxation is an important treatment component. Several holistic and experiential therapies act to enhance relaxation and reduce stress, and may reduce symptoms of PTSD. These therapies include:
- Various meditative practices have been shown to help PTSD by quieting the overactive mind.
- Trauma sensitive yoga uses breathing exercises and postures to help the individual achieve an inner calm.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction. Mindfulness training helps the individual to train their mind to focus on the now instead of allowing past harmful memories to trigger anxiety.
- Administering acupuncture to specific auricular points of the body, it can stimulate relaxation and help the body regulate stress.
Phaite Behavioral Health Care Services
Receive help from experienced clinicians at Phaite Behavioral Health in Orange County, CA. Call to speak to our Admissions Specialist for a confidential assessment and to review PTSD treatment and therapeutic options. Call Toll-Free at 888-259-1268.