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Sharp Health News

Recognizing and healing trauma

June 26, 2019

Recognizing and healing trauma
The term PTSD is often associated with those who have experienced a life-threatening event in the military, like combat in war. While members of the armed forces tend to be screened for PTSD more often, the term is not specific to combat trauma.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is the residual symptoms to any sort of trauma — from a car accident or natural disaster to a violent personal assault or abuse as a child. Increasingly common is the trauma of dealing with shootings in our neighborhoods and in the news.

According to Lisa McJunkin, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, the mammalian nervous systems is designed to warn, avoid and brace for imminent danger. However, as humans, our advanced brains try to reason the “why” of events.

“For many, a single traumatic event can be treated as a random circumstance; however, for 5% to 25% of the population who experience a traumatic event, residual symptoms of PTSD can and do occur,” says McJunkin, who specializes in trauma and PTSD recovery.

Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest months to years after a traumatic experience and can even be triggered by a completely unrelated event.

“Unlike a broken limb where you can clearly see the affected area and treatment can be provided, PTSD symptoms invade the mind, body and soul,” says McJunkin. “Therefore, PTSD can affect everything from sleep, to emotional reactivity, to energy levels, to interpersonal relationships and intimacy, to sense of purpose on this planet.”

Common PTSD symptoms include and are not limited to:
  • Experiencing an intensity of emotions — from feelings of rage to numbness, to feeling out of one’s body
  • Intrusive memories of past traumatic events while awake or sleeping
  • Sense of impending doom and excessive worry for ourselves and those we love
  • Need to be on alert and ever vigilant, with a high startle response
  • Increase in isolation behaviors and high disinterest in large gatherings of people
  • Increase in emotional and physical fatigue
  • Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Difficulty with memory and concentration
  • Feeling a lack of identity outside of the trauma or sense of purpose
  • Chronic pain, stress and autoimmune disease symptoms
  • Thoughts of ending one’s life to stop the pain
These symptoms also indicate our physical bodies are storing “undischarged” energy from the traumatic event(s), which can produce a multitude of physical sensations from numbness to heightened panic and disorientation, says McJunkin.

“People struggling with PTSD are operating with an over-functioning fight, flight or freeze response, while trying to engage in daily functions like driving carpool or remembering grocery lists. They feel like they just are not functioning with the same ability as others around them or as they used to,” says McJunkin.

How to get help for PTSD
“The great news is post-traumatic stress disorder can be treated and healed,” says McJunkin.

  • First and foremost, trust your gut. “If you or someone you love is struggling with unresolved or untreated PTSD, see a trauma recovery professional immediately,” says McJunkin. “Time will not simply make these symptoms disappear. It usually only complicates them.”

  • Get informed. Understanding the condition and treatment options will help you make an informed decision and increase your chances of seeing your recovery through. 
“While the symptoms of PTSD can be terrifying, so can the idea of having to talk about them to another person,” says McJunkin. “Pairing with a professional who is both knowledgeable and supports your autonomy in treatment is critical in any healing setting.”

Treatments for PTSD
Current research shows that PTSD is best treated by first addressing the overactive nervous system through mind and body inventions known as “grounding exercises.” These mindfulness-based exercises can range from focusing thoughts on a specific image, to distracting oneself with a helpful project, or intentional breathing exercises.

“The next step would be structured trauma recovery, such as cognitive processing therapy with a PTSD recovery-trained professional,” says McJunkin. “In many cases, participants report experiencing a drastically improved quality of life.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Sharp Mesa Vista can help. Learn more about Sharp Mesa Vista’s trauma and PTSD recovery program, which offers evidence-based integrative recovery services in a structured setting, or call 858-836-8434.

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