How Trauma Can Have a Lasting Impact
Imagine waking up in the morning and not feeling rested, or not remembering your drive to work. What if your relationships change because you are not who you were? What if every time you heard a certain sound or you drove by a certain area you had a flashback or panic attack?
Traumatic events can have a serious and lasting effect on our lives. If not treated, these debilitating after-effects can last a life time. The best treatments involve re-processing the trauma and it’s manifestations. By re-processing, I don’t mean talk therapy in which you relive the event again and again. This type of exposure treatment is unnecessarily re-traumatizing. My preferred therapy technique to treat PTSD and trauma is Brainspotting. But more on this in a minute, first lets explore a possible day in the life of someone suffering with PTSD.
In our example, let’s talk about Cindy who survived a car accident. Married with children, Cindy now struggles with the very real symptoms of PTSD.
Cindy is tired so much of the time.
Cindy wakes up tired most days. She often has problems falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. But as a mom with kids, she doesn’t have the option of calling in sick. Because she is often tired, she finds herself being inpatient and sometimes yelling at them. Before the accident, she was better able to regulate her emotions and not feel as stressed.
By the end of the night, Cindy is exhausted. Unfortunately, sleep issues beget sleep issues. The more anxious she becomes about falling asleep, the harder it is to fall asleep. Her brain is switched on when it is time for it to calm down for sleep.
Interactions with Others
For someone suffering from PTSD, normal play can be too much and kids don’t just get to be kids!
We talked about Cindy’s interactions with her kids in the morning, but another problem associated with her PTSD is her reaction when her kids play in a normal, exuberant manner. For most people, this is not an issue, but for Cindy, it is loud. The sound is overwhelming and Cindy is constantly telling them to be quiet.
The lasting effects of her PTSD is also impacting her adult relationships. She has withdrawn from her family and friends because she doesn’t have the energy to deal with them. Her family and friends don’t understand. They think “it’s just in her head” and can’t understand why she just doesn’t “just get over it.”
Cindy’s husband notices that she isn’t the person she used to be. In fact, it seems like her personality has changed. The emotional filters that everyone has when they feel an emotion no longer works as consistently as they did before. When Cindy feels angry, she yells–which happens often as she is so often over-stimulated. Their sex life is non-existent which increases the tension between them. Because her brain is working so hard to heal, there are times it looks like “the lights are on but nobody’s home.”
Difficulty Concentrating and Executive Function Challenges
Simple tasks can become overwhelming challenges.
Big projects now seem to be too much for Cindy. Breaking them down into doable pieces, prioritizing, sorting and setting goals used to be so easy. Now, these executive functions take to much effort. Even using a recipe can be a challenge. Most people can easily go back and forth between the ingredient list and the instructions. For Cindy, this is a monumental challenge. Even reading for pleasure has been effected. Now she has to measure how much information is on a page; otherwise, it can be too overwhelming.
Similar Triggering Experiences
Part of PTSD is that similar experiences or sensations can trigger flashbacks. These can take the form of:
- Situational – Experiences like driving around town can be a powerful trigger for those who have been in car accidents.
- Noises – Loud bangs, screeching tires and even noisy children can trigger flashbacks.
- Scents – Our sense of smell is the strongest for bringing up past experiences. Unfortunately those experiences aren’t alway happy!
- Music – Certain songs or types of music can cause powerful associations that are triggering for some people who suffer from PTSD.
- Touch – The startle response it so primed in people with PTSD even a light touch can cause a strong adverse reaction. People who have been physically or sexually abused can be very sensitive to touch.
People who are triggered feel like they are going crazy, they wonder if they will ever feel normal again and if this will ever stop. Because your brain links memories, thoughts and experiences and your mind/body/spirit knows what it needs to do to heal, Brainspotting can be a powerful treatment option for reprocessing the emotional load associated with the traumatic memory. A basic tenet of Brainspotting, is that you have the innate ability to heal.
What Helps – Strategies for Coping with PTSD
Planning for your energy is important. What was so easy before the trauma now can take monumental effort and energy. What you eat and drink plays an important role. “Food is fuel” is a discussion I often have with trauma survivors. Foods that converts to sugar quickly are not your friend. While the body may want quick energy (so it craves sugar), planning ahead and eating well for yourself will work much better in the longer run.
Exercise is imperative. Even if all you can manage is 5 minutes of walking, it will help your nervous system and your mood. All of what I mentioned previously can effect your mood. Depression and/or anxiety easily creep in. Natural light is helpful. If you are indoors all day, sit by a window for at least some of the day. It can help with depression.
Get professional help. A good nutritionist can help with food and supplement suggestions to support the healing your body is doing. A psychotherapist who specializes in trauma can assist you in moving from merely surviving to thriving. It is important to find a therapist who does more than talk therapy. Explore things like Brainspotting, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR and other mind/body modalities.
For Those With PTSD – The Days in Your Life Can Get Better
The effects of PTSD are pervasive. They decrease the mind’s ability to organize and process information. They hamper the nervous system’s ability to regulate stress. As we’ve seen, PTSD negatively impacts relationships. These can even affect one’s ability to hold down a job.
Cindy felt like she was on the outside of normal looking in, but after seeking treatment, she felt heard and understood, she reprocessed her trauma, and she is now able to enjoy the sounds of her children’s rambunctious play.
If you have questions about PTSD or would like to explore Brainspotting, please call me at (303) 444-2003.