In the previous newsletter I had begun talking about the normal after-math of pathological love relationships—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Previous newsletter is on the magazine under Sandra’s Current Articles.)
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is often re-activated by daily ‘triggers.’ These can include people, places, things, or sensory feelings that reconnect you with the trauma of the relationship. In the last newsletter I talked about the gentle life and how an over-taxed and anxious body/mind needs a soothing life. I cannot stress this enough that people MUST remember that their PTSD symptoms CAN BE re-activated if you aren’t taking care of yourself and living a gentle life.
What IS a gentle life? A gentle life is a life lived remembering the sensitivities of your PTSD. It isn’t ignored, or wished away–it is considered and compensated for. Since PTSD affects one physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually–all of those elements need to be considered in a
gentle life. Just as if you had diabetes you would consider what you eat or what medication you need to take, so is it with PTSD.
Interestingly, although PTSD has its description listed in the psychiatric manuals, PTSD has some very real physical effects as well. In fact, they have even discussed listing it in physician’s manuals as well because the untreated on-going effects of acute stress are well known in the medical community. Since PTSD has both components of emotional and physical symptoms, someone recovering from PTSD must take those aspects into account.
Physically, PTSD is often a chronic condition by the time you take yourself for emotional help. That means you have been living with it for a while and it has been wreaking havoc on your physical body during that time. Unbridled anxiety/stress/fear pumps enormous amounts of adrenaline and cortisol into your body. This over stimulates your body and mind and causes insomnia, paranoia, hyperactivity, a racing mind/intrusive thoughts and the inability to ‘let down’ and ‘rest.’
A body that has been living on adrenaline needs the adrenal glands to ‘chill!’ People often complain of chronic insomnia which also leads to depression. Depression can lead to lethargy, over eating, weight gain and hopelessness. It is possible to have both anxiety and depression occurring at the same time. Un-managed stress, anxiety, and adrenaline can lead to longer term medical problems often associated with stress–lower GI problems, migraines, teeth grinding, aggravated periods, chest pain, panic attacks, chronic fatigue and most auto-immune disorders like fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue, arthritis, and MS.
So, CLEARLY PTSD is something that SHOULD be treated. Physically that means to go to someone who can diagnose you–a therapist or psychiatrist. In the early parts of treatment, it is normal to take anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants or sleep aides in order to rectify your depleted brain chemistry and to allow the adrenal glands to ‘rest’ and stop pumping out the adrenaline. Your doctor is in the best position to tell you what will help you relieve your physical symptoms.
Additionally, you need to help your body and brain produce the ‘good stuff’ in your brain chemistry which means exercising, eating well, and learning relaxation techniques. Too much adrenaline has been pumping through your body with no way to get utilized. Excessive adrenaline makes your feel jumpy and restless. Exercise (even moderate walking) helps to produce endorphins in your brain that produce those feelings of ‘well-being’ and helps to burn off the adrenaline and any extra weight you might have gathered.
Although during depression you often don’t FEEL like exercising, you will always feel bad if you don’t get your body moving. Stress is even stored at the cellular level of our bodies. You must, must, must get moving in order to feel better.
Eating well means not trying to medicate your depression and low energy with carbs. When you are depressed your body craves carbs as a source of quick energy but the spikes in blood sugar add to the sense of mood highs and lows. You’ve already had enough ‘junk’ in the relationship–think of it as nurturing to give your body good food to replace all the ‘junk’ that it has been through. You can greatly help mood swings by eating well.
Dealing with the negative habits you have picked up as a ‘coping mechanism’ is also necessary. Lots of people with PTSD try to medicate their anxiety and depression. This could be through smoking, relationship hopping, sex, eating/binging/purging, drugs (legal and illegal) and the
increased use of alcohol. In fact, one of the devastating side effects of PTSD is how many alcoholics it produces. Anything you are prone to right now tends to increase when you have PTSD because you begin to do that habit more and more to manage your PTSD symptoms. Finding positive coping skills instead of negative habits is a great step in your recovery.
Physical recovery also means paying attention to not reactivating your symptoms. Your physical environment in which you live, play and work must be conducive to low stimulation. That means low lights, low noise, and low aggravation. Sometimes that means making big changes in how your house is run so that it is not loud, noisy and over active. Sometimes that means making big changes in the PEOPLE you hang out with — getting rid of the loud, noisy, over active, aggressive and pathological. And sometimes it means making big changes in a job where the environment does nothing but trigger you.
Lastly, learning relaxation techniques is not ‘optional’ for people with PTSD. PTSD is a chronic state of hyper-vigilance, agitation, and restlessness. Your body has been over-ridden with adrenaline for a long time and has ‘forgotten’ how to find it’s equilibrium in relaxation. It must be retaught. Re-teaching means doing it daily. Taking 5 – 10 minutes a day to use relaxation breathing and allowing your mind to unwind and giving positive messages to your body to relax will help your tap into this natural relaxation even during times you are not actively trying to relax. The more you use the technique, the quicker your body can relax–even at work or when you are doing something else because it has ‘remembered’ how to.
There are lots of tapes, CDs or videos you can buy on relaxation that walk you thru how to do it (we also have one created for PTSD on the magazine under Shopping/CDs, Audios. Or take Yoga where they teach you these deep breathing techniques that help correct the ’shallow/panting’ breathing that is associated with PTSD and anxiety. This type of breathing can actually trigger panic attacks. Learning to breathe well again is a metaphor for ‘exhaling’ all the junk you’ve been thru and releasing it. If you don’t have a relaxation tape, you are welcome to get our mp3 audio on relaxation techniques on our website. Most importantly is to just become acutely aware that PTSD is physical (and often medical) as it is emotional.