A Closer Look at PTSD

One of the areas of work I feel particularly passionate about in my practice is facilitating recovery after a traumatic incident. Last week, I began a discussion of trauma and PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, one of my areas of specialty.

We often think of veterans when we think of PTSD. In large part, much of what we do know about trauma and PTSD is a result of the experiences of Vietnam veterans. Prior to that, while trauma responses existed, there had not been a whole lot of focus on understanding traumatic reactions. Although PTSD tends to be the issue that most often comes to mind when we consider trauma, there are a number of other responses to trauma, including things such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and difficulties in relationships. We will address some of these elements but, in our multi-episode Looking at Trauma series, we will mostly focus on PTSD. Most of these other issues are embedded within the constellation of PTSD and will make more sense as we understand PTSD.

To begin with, it’s important to understand what exactly a trauma is…

If we think about the definition of a trauma, it’s generally defined by dictionaries as a deeply distressing or disturbing occurrence. Often, in medical contexts, it’s described as a disruption. Different experts and different fields describe trauma in different ways, which can be confusing and even intimidate if we are looking to do our research.

However, there are some common elements in thinking about what a trauma specifically is. From the lens of mental health or psychology, trauma, as described by the American Psychological Association, is typically an emotional and somatic response to a terrible, overwhelming, situation.

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, traumatic events are shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity. While the World Health Organization describes trauma as more of an emergent/disaster based situation.

There are a number of different events that can be traumatic. Some examples of these situations that may immediately come to mind include a serious and potentially life-threatening accident, assault, natural disaster, or combat. Other types of experiences can be traumatic as well such as surviving or witnessing a crime or physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as bullying or even a big move. Sometimes, trauma responses can follow any major change or disruption in a person’s life.

Many people are exposed to traumatic events. In the time immediately following a trauma, most people will have the experiences of PTSD that we will talk about. However, over time, for many people, those experiences naturally decrease, and they are not diagnosed with PTSD. In other words, they naturally recover from the traumatic event. There are some people who do not recover and are later diagnosed with PTSD. Based on that, it is helpful to think of PTSD as a problem in recovery. Something got in the way of you having that natural process of recovery, and the work of therapy is to determine what got in the way and to change it so that you can recover from what happened. You and your therapist will be working to get you ̳unstuck.

Let’s look at this in more depth…

Because we know that PTSD experiences are nearly universal immediately following very serious traumatic stressors and that recovery takes a few months under normal circumstances, it may be best to think about diagnosable PTSD as a disruption or stalling out of a normal recovery process, rather than the development of a unique psychopathology. A therapist needs to determine what has interfered with normal recovery. In one case, it may be that someone believes that they will be overwhelmed by the amount of emotional reactivity that will emerge if he stops avoiding and numbing himself. Perhaps s/he was taught as a child that emotions are bad, that s/he should just get over it.‖ In another case, someone may have refused to talk about what happened with anyone because s/he blames herself for ―letting‖ the event happen and she is so shamed and humiliated that s/he is convinced that others will blame her, too. In a third case, a person may have seen something so horrifying that every time s/he falls asleep and dreams about it, s/he wakes up in a cold sweat. So, in order to sleep, s/he drinks heavily. Yet another person may be so convinced that s/he will be victimized again that s/he refuses to go out anymore and has greatly restricted his/her activities and relationships. In still another case, in which other people were killed, a person may have survivor guilt and obsesses over why s/he was spared when others were killed. S/he feels unworthy and experiences guilt whenever s/he laughs or finds himself enjoying something. In all these instances, thoughts or avoidance behaviors are interfering with emotional processing and reshaping our beliefs. There are as many individual examples of things that can block a smooth recovery as there are individuals with PTSD.

There are several categories of experiences that tend to follow a traumatic event. Last week, we more closely examined each of the categories.

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Exploring the Impact of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become a buzzword that’s gotten a lot of attention over the last few years, but not many people really get a full understanding of what it is. The benefit of this is that a lot of awareness has been brought to this powerful exercise. And yet, unfortunately, much of the important components of it have become overlooked in the shuffle. Because of this, many people have an incomplete and partial understanding of Mindfulness. In the “Beyond the Couch” podcast, along with this multi-part blog post series, I set out to help bring to light much of the scientific backing to how and why Mindfulness works to benefit us. In particular, the way Mindfulness can impact us and help us to work through the various disruptions and stressors in our lives can really bring a deeper level of benefit, growth, and enduring change as we redefine and recreate our lives.

With things changing in our lives, even when that change is internal, we might be feeling a bit restless and stuck in a rut. You may be finding yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed and rundown. In fact, you might even feel this in your physical body where you may be having a hard time catching your breath and feel your muscles tightened and clenched. Maybe you are feeling rushed from one thing to the next without a moment to slow your racing mind down. You’re even catching yourself walking into a room and don’t even know why. Or, you find yourself looking for your cup of coffee and realize it has been in your hand while you’re frantically searching for it. You may have even had an entire conversation with someone and realize that you have no idea what you just talked about. It may even have gotten to a point that things have become so frazzling that, more and more, you’re finding yourself reactive without knowing what set you off and you are just having a hard time focusing on what you are trying to do.

You wish you could find a way to just clear your head, de-stress, refocus, and find your footing again.

With a brief and consistent Mindfulness practice, you can find simple ways to get yourself feeling more focused, alert, and calm again so that you can get into a productive and meaningful mindset. This way, you are ready to tackle all of the things you are juggling from a state that can help you make the best choices for your meaningful, fulfilled life.

Mindfulness refers to a practice that focuses on awareness of the present experience without judgment and without attachment or reactivity. This allows our mind to be calm and peaceful so that we can have greater clarity and even increase happiness, peace, and decrease discomfort.

It tends to be difficult for most people to control their mindset – we often feel as if our thoughts are maintained by external circumstances. As we build our Mindfulness practice, we can more easily maintain awareness and control of our thoughts and mindset. To understand this, we will explore a concept called neuroplasticity – or, the changing nature of our brain.

Generally, our brain is looking to proactively solve future problems and rework past issues so that, when they arise again, it is best prepared to quickly and efficiently resolve them. This, however, keeps us from being fully immersed in the present moment.

Not only this, but our mind does not see a distinction between a past, future, or present stressor. It gets us to react to past and future stressors with stress in the here and now. To our mind, it’s all the same. As a result, overthinking, worrying, depressive thoughts, and anxiety elicit the stress response of fight, flight, and freeze. Over time, this can make us vulnerable to mental health issues.

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala, which is our brain’s center for fear and negative emotions. This is important because it also helps to reduce the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Overall, shifting our state in this way helps us to respond in more productive ways to the things going on in our lives. There is a further cumulative effect of this benefit in that it first allows us to participate in our lives in ways that allow us to build confidence, self-efficacy, and more meaningful relationships. Furthermore, as we will explore in Part II of this series, Mindfulness practice on a consistent basis facilitates creating and building more positive and adaptive neuronal connections while simultaneously dissolving the older, less helpful neuronal connections.

I look forward to further elaborating on the impact of Mindfulness on our neuronal connections, neuroplasticity, and overall state next week!

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“Beyond the Couch” Explores the Benefits of Group Therapy!

The newest episode of the “Beyond the Couch” podcast is here!

Today, we look at the benefits of group therapy, different formats of group therapy, and how we can gain the most benefit from group therapy. You can listen to the episode here!

Don’t forget: If you missed the first few episodes, they are always available via iTunes, on my website, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and YouTube.

If you’ve found these episodes helpful in some way, please be sure to read a rating and review so that 1.) I know what helps you and 2.) so that others in the same boat can find what they need.

Enjoy these first few episodes before the next one on Thursday – we’ll be focusing on Mindfulness!

Exciting News!

I am making an announcement today that I am very excited to share with you. I have been working on a new project to help share valuable resources, tips, information, and content for many people across the world to more effectively redefine their lives, get rid of pain and fear that holds them back, and create a life they look forward to celebrating.

Recently, I was invited to speak as a guest on a local radio show. Following that, I received an outpouring of questions and contact requests from a large number of people. It was then that I realized I could contribute to the efforts of a greater number of people looking to transform their lives with the help of technology.

Over the last few months, I have worked hard to set up a foundation for a podcast with the theme of redefining ourselves and recreating our lives. Along the way, we will look at effective tools, practical tips, accessible resources, community supports, and eye-opening insights to help cultivate the life that we want to live and celebrate.

I will be broadcasting on Mondays and Thursdays for the first few months to help spread the word to anyone who can benefit. After this initial  In addition, I will be interviewing a number of guests as well as looking at other resources to share the best, most accessible, and most effective tools for listeners along their journey of transformation.

The most exciting part of this announcement for me is that this will all begin very soon! I am scheduled to launch on March 20th! I would love to help get the word out over the next few weeks to make sure people have access to this information.

If you’d like to join me in this endeavor, I’d love to have you! You can easily jump onboard here! Sign on and let’s get you to the front of the line in access!

I look forward to getting started on this journey together!

 

 

Benefits of Mindful Eating

Here we are on Mindful Monday again! Recently, I introduced some guidelines for mindful eating. If you have had a chance to try them out, I would love to hear your experiences. Share them with our Facebook and Twitter communities so you can help inspire others!

If you find yourself nervous about all the food coming up later in the week, here are some benefits of mindful eating that can help you practice mindful eating to ensure you feel your best:

  • Mindful eating helps you appreciate food more, so you eat less
  • Mindful eating reverses the emotional eating habit
  • Mindfulness interrupts the relationship between thoughts and unconscious, automatic eating behaviors
  • Mindfulness undercuts common states of mind that lead to eating

I would love to hear how this went for you and what benefits you noticed! Be sure to share with us in our Facebook and Twitter communities so we can celebrate with you!

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Mindful Monday: A Simple Guide to Mindful Eating

Yet another Mindful Monday has arrived and I am so excited to share another Mindfulness tool with you. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to introduce you to mindful eating.

If you’ve heard about mindful eating but aren’t sure where or how to start, here are instructions for a brief mindfulness eating exercise.

The following exercise is simple and will only take a few minutes.

Find a small piece of food, such as one raisin or nut, or a small cookie. You can use any food that you like. Eating with mindfulness is not about deprivation or rules.

Begin by exploring this little piece of food, using as many of your senses as possible.

First, look at the food. Notice its texture. Notice its color.

Now, close your eyes, and explore the food with your sense of touch. What does this food feel like? Is it hard or soft? Grainy or sticky? Moist or dry?

Notice that you’re not being asked to think, but just to notice different aspects of your experience, using one sense at a time. This is what it means to eat mindfully.

Before you eat, explore this food with your sense of smell. What do you notice?

Now, begin eating. No matter how small the bite of food you have, take at least two bites to finish it.

Take your first bite. Please chew very slowly, noticing the actual sensory experience of chewing and tasting. Remember, you don’t need to think about your food to experience it. You might want to close your eyes for a moment to focus on the sensations of chewing and tasting, before continuing.

Notice the texture of the food; the way it feels in your mouth.

Notice if the intensity of its flavor changes, moment to moment.

Take about 20 more seconds to very slowly finish this first bite of food, being aware of the simple sensations of chewing and tasting.

It isn’t always necessary to eat slowly in order to eat with mindfulness. But it’s helpful at first to slow down, in order to be as mindful as you can.

Now, please take your second and last bite.

As before, chew very slowly, while paying close attention to the actual sensory experience of eating: the sensations and movements of chewing, the flavor of the food as it changes, and the sensations of swallowing.

Just pay attention, moment by moment.

Using a mindfulness eating exercise on a regular basis is only one part of a mindfulness approach to your diet. The liberating power of mindfulness takes deeper effect when you begin to pay mindful attention to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, all of which lead us to eat. Mindfulness (awareness) is the foundation that many people have been missing for overcoming food cravings, addictive eating, binge eating, emotional eating, and stress eating.

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