PTSD is a condition that results from an experience that is terrifying, shocking or scary. Not everyone develops PTSD even if they have the same or similar frightening experience. Those that do are not able to recover fully from the experience, whether it be combat, a car accident, an assault, or sexual or physical abuse. Symptoms associated with “the fight or flight” or fear response, are increased, rapid heart rate, increased, even rapid breathing, and the body tenses, prepared to take action. It is an alert state ready to respond to danger. These symptoms are normal but should be short lived during and for a brief period after the event.
For the person that develops post traumatic stress disorder, the alert state is repeatedly activated. They become hypersensitive to circumstances or stimulation that “feels similar” to what they experienced during the traumatic event. It is a kind of “primal panic” that takes the thinking, reasoning brain off line engaging the primitive, or reptilian brain to take over. It is pure survival mode to ward off perceived threats to well being and safety. It is like going from zero to 60 mph in half a second even when there is no obvious threat present.
PTSD is obviously debilitating and disruptive and requires specialized care. Overcoming PTSD requires a multi-faceted approach of retraining your brain and body to transition out of the fear response to a state of safety and security. Medication is often prescribed to help slow down the fear response along with counseling and other adaptive strategies. Treatment may include physical practices like exercise, yoga, relaxation skills, and deep breathing in addition to cognitive therapies and meditation that retrain the brain to respond to perceived threats in a different, more adaptive way.
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