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PTSD & Trauma Recovery

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Sian Quipp

Winter 2013

PTSD & Trauma Recovery

Most people associate PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ) with soldiers in battle but any overwhelming life experience can trigger it, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable. Adversity is inevitable, it is estimated that 75% of us experience some form of trauma in our lives. However, 20% go on to develop PTSD.

How do I know if I have PTSD?

Following a traumatic event, it is normal to have bad dreams, find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened and feel fearful. For the majority of people, these symptoms are short lived and can last days or even weeks before they eventually lift. With PTSD people don’t feel better over time and can often feel worse.

What is PTSD?

The stress response. When we are under threat our amygdala raises the alarm, we go into flight or fight stress response. This involves large amounts of adrenaline being released causing the heart to pound, a rise in body temperature and increased respiration. Blood is diverted from our stomach to our limbs to help us to run or to fight. Who hasn’t experienced an upset stomach, palpitations or sweating when they are nervous or stressed?

In traumatic experiences, blood flow is reduced to our rational thinking part of the brain and the amygdala takes over, helping us to respond rather than think about
it. This happens before the neocortex , the rational thinking part of our brain, has time to add information. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol prevents the
hippocampus from being able to communicate properly with the amygdala to create narrative for an event – such as ‘we were driving in the car and lost control
due to the icy road.’ As neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux puts it: “strong emotions makes us stupid.”

Without context or narrative from the neocortex and the hippocampus, the amygdala takes a low resolution snapshot of the event and anything remotely like it

should be avoided at all costs, so in the above example, cars or forms of transport might be avoided not just icy roads. It pattern matches a situation in the present with a past threat, which results in factors such as sounds, colours, or smells, that may only have peripheral connections to the event, becoming triggers for the stress response. As we’re not consciously aware of how our brain is pattern matching, the triggers seem to come out of the blue, which can cause a person to be hyper vigilant as there is a feeling of constant danger which causes people to avoid situations that might trigger the same reaction.

Without context, pattern matches from an event in childhood can still trigger a stress response as an adult if the memory hasn’t been processed.

Symptoms – The British Psychological Society defines the symptoms of PTSD as:

Flashbacks and nightmares – re-experiencing of trauma in a vivid and distressing way. Avoidance of reminders of trauma – such as activities, places or people.

Being on high alert – anxious, exaggerated startled response, sleep problems.

In PTSD as the amygdala is still on high alert there are many innocent events that trigger the stress response; ‘re-living’ of the event continues this means that the stress levels don’t get low enough for the hippocampus or neocortex to add context or narrative. If we think of PTSD as an over stimulated defence response then the symptoms – flashbacks, avoidance and being on high alert- make sense.

How PTSD develops depends on the person, it can happen in the first month but can take months or even years to develop. Later development can cause confusion, ’why is this happening to me now?’

How Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help

So whether you have been diagnosed with PTSD or have some of the symptoms you should get some support.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy is a unique approach. Everyone suffers in their own way so it’s not the label or diagnosis that’s important but how you experience your symptoms. Cognitive Hypnotherapists tailor their approach to suit you, so sessions are personalised to suit your individual needs. We work with the principle that all behaviour has purpose, your mind is doing its best it can to protect you, even though it might not seem that way at first. We work together to find out what you need to process the event in a different way to bring you peace of mind.

There has been lots of research into why some people who have been through trauma develop PTSD and other people don’t. It is thought that the personal meaning that a person gives to the trauma as well as the support they receive after the event to be the two biggest factors. As these factors are completely different for each person it is important to find personalised support that can help you make sense of what happened in way that relieves your symptoms.

I see many clients for anxiety and PTSD symptoms and here are some useful tips.

There is hope

Whatever happened or whatever you’ve been through doesn’t have to define you. People can often feel as if they are losing their grip on the world around them, and even on a sense of who they are. With the right support you can move on and begin to enjoy life again.

You are not on your own

It’s common to want to withdraw from being around people when there’s so much going on inside your head and you’re feeling overwhelmed. Being around a support network and people you feel safe with can have a positive effect. Connect with friends or family or find a support group that could offer regular contact in an encouraging environment.

Self compassion

Knowing the science behind how trauma affects the brain, the symptoms you’re

experiencing are not your fault. People tend to give themselves a hard time and think they should just ‘get over it’. Chances are that you wouldn’t be as harsh to your best friend as you are to yourself. Self compassion can often be the start of being open to the possibility of things being different.

Time to relax

Being anxious and on constant high alert is exhausting. Look after yourself as much as you can with sleep and eating well. Gentle exercise, yoga, meditation or self-hypnosis can be useful to build up moments of calm to give yourself a brain break.

People often feel worse around Christmas and New Year as there are high expectations for everyone to be happy, which can highlight just how down you’re feeling. My advice is to take action and get support. Speak to a Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapist, it could make all the difference.

My story

I was almost relieved when I was diagnosed with PTSD. For years I felt like I was going mad, that I was unable to move on, that I was stuck. I believed that I would never recover from the trauma I had experienced, I felt helpless and angry that I wasn’t coping better. I had panic attacks; I was scared all the time and had nightmares most nights. I was on anti-depressants and was exhausted. I thought I was doing pretty well in some respects as I had a job and was functioning but there was a part of me that wished for a better existence, I didn’t want to be on anti-depressants forever. For years I tried everything: counselling, psychotherapy, self-help books, acupuncture, energy work, which all helped in a small way but nothing had made the difference that I was desperate for – until I found Cognitive Hypnotherapy.

A friend had seen a dramatic difference in someone she knew who had had hypnotherapy and suggested that I tried it. I wasn’t too keen as I thought it was just for smoking or weight loss. Then I read an article in the Observer about Cognitive Hypnotherapy so I thought that I might as well give it a try. In the first session the therapist explained something that changed everything for me – the severity of the trauma you experience does not dictate how long you take to recover. I had always thought I had to work really hard at feeling better and at best I thought I would learn to manage my symptoms. The possibility that I could stop having nightmares and panic attacks gave me hope that things could be different, although part of me didn’t quite believe it could be so simple. After a few sessions I felt better than I ever imagined possible. I slept better; I came off medication and started to enjoy life.

The results were so life changing that a few years later I retrained with the Quest Institute and became a Cognitive Hypnotherapist. I am passionate about working with people to make a positive difference in their lives.