By Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN
This week we take a look at the biochemical impact of PTSD and sustained stress. Neurotransmitters and cortisol are two interrelated responses to the threat of—or actual—physical and emotional harm. When a person lives under constant stress (of a pathological love relationship, for instance), his or her biochemistry almost always becomes unbalanced, leading to a host of emotional and physical symptoms. This stress response often takes on a life of its own and in doing so creates further problems such as cortisol and/or serotonin depletion. Neurologically, the same kind of thing happens in the nervous system and the brain’s frequencies get stuck in the ‘red alert mode.’
The nervous system, composed of bundles of brain cells, is an amazing communications system more complex than just about any system known. Brain cells communicate with lightning speed using neurotransmitters and electrical signals. Particular groupings of signals or frequencies are more active under certain conditions such as sleep, relaxation, or being on red alert.
Neurofeedback training, based on the early success of fingertip-based biofeedback, uses a number of aspects about the brain’s ability to self-correct, or retrain, under specific circumstances: The person/client doing the training has sensors placed on the head and ears to pick up information from the scalp-brainwaves. A computer program is designed to both read and interpret these signals and to determine to what degree things are out of balance.
Meanwhile, the computer’s music file is opened and a recorded piece of music or a CD is played. The music is stopped by the computer program when it detects a pattern that is essentially out of balance. This interruption is perceived by the brain as a signal to interrupt what it was doing—in the case of PTSD, being on red alert.
When the brain is given this information many times for many weeks, it gradually stops the pattern of overreacting to things that are not particularly threatening. For example, many partners of disordered persons have an overly sensitive startle reflex. A relatively harmless situation can trigger an extreme reaction, especially if the person is used to walking on eggshells with a disordered partner.
Neurofeedback training—a proven noninvasive method—helps the client regain the ability to relax, which can:
- reduce hypertension
- reduce dependency on chemical self-soothing patterns (medications, drugs)
- reduce dependency on behavioral self-soothing patterns (overeating, overspending)
- promote healthy sleep patterns
- promote constructive problem-solving as the brain is less controlled by anxiety and fear
There are many, many benefits to neurofeedback training. Next week’s column will provide a more thorough description of the process and the results.
In the meantime, here are a couple of links to sites that will provide further information:
For more information about Joan-Marie, visit www.joanmarielartin.com/
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information.)