PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You may know someone suffering from this disorder or you may be suffering from it personally. If it could be proven that individuals with this condition were in fact experiencing neurological states or changes that can be reversed, would that change the way this disorder is perceived?
Historically trauma has not been understood as well as it is today. New research is being done on PTSD all of the time and new treatments are now being pursued that are therapeutic in nature.
Mindfulness techniques are also currently being studied for their potential. These techniques are starting to gain traction more recently as a result of empirical findings.
Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder go hand in hand. While trauma can describe a number of things or events, the APA defines it as an emotional response to what has been a bad event. This could be everything from going through combat to an assault to a traumatic emotional event, death, domestic violence, natural disaster, near death experience, and more.
Danger puts our bodies and minds into a mode of fight or flight. Hormones are released to help push us to act in a quick way and make a decision that could mean our survival. Do we fight, or do we flee the scene? Trauma invites a sense of helplessness where we feel like we can’t do anything to get out of the situation.
PTSD is an extreme response to trauma. It often results in people going through the event again, feeling emotionally numb, avoiding reminders or triggers to the event, or a state of sensitivity where you startle quickly to things. It can mean that the individual is in a state of distress and may manifest in a sense of low functioning when it comes to other parts of their life.
This state of being can also have implications on the brain. However, for all the trauma that a mind may endure, it still can take advantage of the concept of neuroplasticity. It was once thought that the brain stopped growing or developing once it reached maturity.
However, the current updated view holds that the brain is actually constantly in a state of change and new experiences may have an impact on how our brains are wired. In other words, our minds reflect changing pathways over the course of a lifetime. The human brain is wired to change when an event happens so that it can not only cope with the situation, but also adapt to it.
With negative experiences, the changes in the mind may be more extreme. They may even place us in a state of arrested development. Our minds learn that they may need to defend against more trauma, but this is not a way of being that can be as successful as possible on a longer term basis.
Trauma can affect the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the pre-frontal cortex. Now neuro-imaging techniques are letting scientists actually get a closer look at the brains of individuals that have been diagnosed with PTSD.
The amygdala, located in the limbic system, usually determines things regarding threats. It is the one that sends out the danger signal and then will tell you whether the threat is gone. Those that have gone through trauma are left with an amygdala that is alert to all stimuli and their environment and their minds can get used to looking for threats everywhere during an activated loop.
This area of the brain is also interacting with the hippocampus, which aids memory function. Those with PTSD have found small hippocampi. This area connects and organizes all of the different functions of memory. Those suffering from this order may have difficulty with memory, telling the difference between past or present, flashbacks, and more. Memories trigger the amygdala, keeping it in a state of activity.
The pre-frontal cortex is also involved. People with PTSD may have a less active PFC and can’t override the hippocampus when it flashbacks memory or signal to the amygdala that there is no real danger. The PFC regulations emotions, impulses, behaviors, and fear responses. If you or someone that you know is suffering from PTSD, you can seek Direct Neurofeedback and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Direct Neurofeedback helps stimulate the parasympathetic nerves and reduces the “fight or flight” response caused by PTSD.