PTSD and the science behind why you can’t just “get over it”

This question comes up a lot. If it’s something you ask yourself, please read this. If other people ask you why you aren’t over it yet – please share this with them, and maybe it will help them to understand.

Trauma memories aren’t like other memories – they don’t fade over time. Every time you think of them, they feel like they just happened yesterday (or worse – like they’re happening now).

Here’s why, in a nutshell:

Think of your brain as having two main parts:

Part 1 is your “Thinking Brain”. The thinking Brain is smart, rational and fact-based. We’re conscious of the thoughts it comes up with. It plans, organizes, and problem-solves.

When it stores a memory, it’s like a librarian – it organizes by theme and date. So, its memories of your senior year of high school might include the music you liked that year; the person you had a crush on; the part-time job you worked; and, oh dear, that goofy haircut you had that was so stylish back then. Remembering these memories feels like you’re looking through an old photo album – there’s a distinct sense of “me-now” remembering what happened to “me-then”.

Part 2 is your “Threat-Response Brain”. We’ve talked about this one before, here, here, and here; it’s not smart, it’s not rational, and you’re not consciously aware of what it thinks.

Your Threat-Response Brain stores memory very differently – and it does so on purpose.

Pretend you touched a hot stove once, as a small child; you burned your hand and cried.

To be good at predicting future threats, your Threat-Response Brain needs to know that “hot things hurt“. Time and context don’t matter: you don’t want a Threat Brain that thinks “Yeah, I hurt myself on a hot stove – but it was Grandma’s old gas stove, back when I was a kid, and she was cooking breakfast; I’m an adult now, in my house, making dinner, and my stove is electric, so let’s try touching it, because maybe it’ll feel good.”

Yeah – that really wouldn’t help much, now would it?

The way the Threat-Response Brain works is: “Every time I see/hear/smell something that reminds me of the time I got hurt, there might be danger.” The threat brain also generalizes to similar threats – so, if you hurt yourself by touching a hot stove, you don’t need to also touch a hot iron, and stick your hand in a campfire – your threat brain learns that hot = pain.

This is why memories of trauma stay fresh and vivid in your mind, even years or decades later: they are kept in a different part of your brain than other memories. The point of the Threat-Response Brain is to protect you – so it makes sure you remember danger as if it had just happened.

So – how do you cope with this stuff, when it gets triggered? You use grounding skills. Remind yourself that feeling triggered means that your Threat-Response Brain is reacting to a memory – it doesn’t mean that you’re in danger now. Tell yourself, “my threat-response brain is reacting right now because this looks/smells/sounds similar to my trauma – but that was years ago, and I’m here now, and that’s not happening anymore.” This helps you refocus on the here-and-now.

To fine-tune your Threat-Response Brain’s reactions, there are no quick and easy tricks I can teach you in a blog post – but, there are specific therapies out there (EMDR or cognitive processing for example) that can help with that.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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“Why do I push people away when I need them the most?”

The title of this post is a question that was sent to me a little while ago; it comes up often enough, and seems to be something that a lot of people can relate to.

When we’re at our loneliest and most vulnerable – precisely when we need support the most – often seems to be exactly the time when we work the hardest to push people away. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, and we often kick ourselves for acting this way.

There’s actually some important reasons why we tend to act this way.

One is reflex: when we feel hurt and vulnerable, our defenses go up. When that happens, it’s harder to trust and let people in.

Two is history, especially childhood: When we’ve been hurt, our antennas go up and we find it a lot harder to trust; so the more lonely we feel, the more vulnerable we feel. When we feel vulnerable, our instinct is to not trust because we’re afraid of being hurt again. It’s a vicious cycle – we feel alone, so we feel vulnerable, so we push people away,  which makes us feel alone, which makes us feel vulnerable, which makes us push people away…

Three is culture, especially if you’re from a military background: you’re used to being tough and doing your best to act even tougher. Trying to let your guard down to let someone else actually look after you makes you feel… Vulnerable. You don’t want anyone to see you when you’re hurting, so even though you really need them to be there for you, you push them away.

The trick to breaking the pattern is:

One, understand that your reflex is making you feel less trusting – it’s colouring your outlook, and making you more crusty and prickly than you normally would be. So, know that the reason you’re pushing people away is because you really need them.

Two, realize that you got hurt back then, and this is now. It’s important to remind yourself that not everyone is like the person/people who hurt you; it will take work to slowly allow yourself to let people in.

UPDATE: Since it was published, this post has been one of the most read on this blog, and many readers have asked me to write more on the topic. Here’s a link to part 2 on this topic; here is part 3.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Panic Attacks: Where They Come From, What They Are

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope your holidays went well. Before you put them behind you, take a quick inventory: what helped you get through the holidays this year, and what didn’t? Taking a few minutes to review this will help you do even better next year.

Now that the holidays are behind us, let’s switch gears, and talk about panic attacks.

There’s a lot to say about panic, so – if at the end of this post you have more questions than answers – hang tight. I’ll cover more in the next post. And the one after that.

If you have PTSD, chances are pretty good that you also have panic attacks. Panic attacks and PTSD are caused by the same reflexhttp://drdee.ca/2013/05/31/ptsd-the-role-of-reflex-part-1-how-reflex-works/. When it senses a threat, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tense up, you get a shot of adrenalin and you deal with the threat. And then when the threat’s over, if this reflex is working properly, your adrenal glands stop pumping adrenalin into your bloodstream, and you get to feel calm again.

Like PTSD, panic attacks happen when the “off” switch on your threat-response reflex breaks down. Reflex starts to misfire, basically. The triggers for panic attacks aren’t always obvious; often, panic attacks might seem like they’re happening for no reason at all.

A panic attack is one of the most intensely unpleasant things that can happen to you.

I’m going to describe what a panic attack feels like. If you get a lot of panic attacks and they are easily triggered, take a moment now to remind yourself that you’re not in danger; look around the room, take a few slow, deep breaths.

When you’re having a panic attack, you might feel like you can’t breathe; your heart starts pounding like it wants to jump out of your chest; your chest feels like it’s going to explode; you’re shaking, sweating, tingling, numb, hot or cold; you feel dizzy, light-headed or faint; you feel like you’re choking and like you’re going to throw up. It might feel like it’s not real, and you might be (understandably) scared and thinking you’re going to die or go crazy.

Look – I’d love to write a whole book right now, in this blog post, to explain all the biology of how and why they happen, and how you’re going to beat them. That’s going to take a few more posts on my part, and a lot of practice on your part (and hopefully, some real help, because a blog is not a substitute for actual therapy. And if you’re dealing with panic, then I’d really like you to go get some therapy).

What I need you to know for right now, is that panic attacks are not dangerous. Panic can’t make you go crazy, it can’t make you have a heart attack, and it can’t make you die. It is totally, completely awful to deal with. It feels like an eternity, but it usually lasts somewhere between 10-20 minutes for most people. And then it’s over, and you’re exhausted but in no danger.

That’s important information to keep in mind. Because when you have panic attacks, you end up spending a lot of time dreading the next panic attack. So – work on reminding yourself that panic attacks can’t actually hurt you, even if they feel really awful. That’s the first step to taking back your life.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD Triggers: Crowds

So – while we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s talk about crowds. From what I gather, most of you are not big fans of crowds.

Like I keep saying, PTSD is basically your brain’s threat-alert system, kicked into high gear without an “off” button. So – you’re constantly trying to size up all possible threats.

Say you’re in a room with one door, one window, and one other person. That’s not bad; you can scan window-door-person, to look for possible threats.

Now say you’re in a bigger room, with ten people. Keeping track is much harder, and it’s easier to get overwhelmed.

It goes up to a whole new level if you’re in a grocery store, a mall, or a football stadium. Now, there’s just no way to keep track of it all. Just thinking about it, you might start to feel your heart rate speeding up a bit – that’s your reflex, getting ready to fight or flee.

Take a moment. Breathe. You’re not there right now.

See what just happened there? That feeling started, even though you were just thinking. Thinking is not dangerous – but your survival reflex is so strong, that just thinking about it makes the danger feel SO real.

When we start to feel like that, we interpret that feeling itself as a sign that there’s danger. If we can’t quickly scan our entire environment, we start thinking the danger must be real, only we can’t see it.

Feeling tense/nervous/uneasy does NOT mean that you’re in danger – it just means that your threat-detection system is reminded of danger.

…That little fact right there folks – that is the key to the universe.

When you’re dealing with PTSD, having that feeling that tells you, “Oh no, major danger is coming” does NOT actually mean that anything is coming.

It just means that your threat-response system was reminded of danger.

Remember Dave the Zebra, and his red flowers? Well – crowds are sort of like your red flowers.

So – how do you cope?

Remind yourself that, as soon as you start to think about crowds, your PTSD will start to act up. This is not because thinking is dangerous, or because crowds are dangerous; it’s because PTSD reacts to reminders of danger.

Heading into a crowd, you’re going to feel anxious/tense/wound up. You may even start imagining all kinds of horrible things that could go wrong, and all those things might feel very, very real. Feeling and thinking this way does not mean that you’re in danger, or that awful things will happen. This is a normal part of PTSD; it is to be expected. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous.

Repeat this information to yourself frequently; with consistent practice, it will get easier. (You’ll probably still not like being in crowds, but it will get easier to cope with it.)

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD: Dissociative Symptoms

Holy feedback!

As soon as I put up the last blog post, there was a stampede of comments and emails saying, “Yes! Talk about this more!!!”

Okay.

So we left off talking about how the “freeze” response is part of the fight/flight/freeze reflex. It’s how we defend ourselves when we can’t fight or run away; it dulls the pain of whatever is happening.

Let’s put this together with some information we have from before, about how reflex learns: it learns that any reminder of the trauma is a sign of danger.

So – a reminder of your trauma might set off a “freeze” reaction.

Here’s what it feels like: you might feel like you’re not really in your body so it’s not really happening to you (this is called depersonalization); or you might feel like the whole thing is a dream, a movie, or happening in slow motion like it’s not real (this is called derealization). You might feel like you’re just losing chunks of time – ‘waking up’ and not knowing how you got to be wherever you are (this is called, WTF just happened to me?).

Here’s what it feels like to have PTSD do this to your life: it’s terrifying. You feel like you have no control over your mind or body. You want to do everything you can to grip onto reality, but you get sucked into this rabbit hole. You might feel angry at your mind for betraying you this way.  You might feel guilty, weak, and ashamed for not being “strong enough” to somehow hang on tighter and not let this happen to you. It can leave you feeling traumatized again and again, every time it happens, because being helpless to stop yourself from dissociating can remind you of being helpless to stop your trauma when it happened. You might feel depressed, useless, worthless.

…Boy, sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Lookit – I’m not gonna try and tell you that getting out of that hot mess is easy, quick, or painless. It’s none of those. If your PTSD includes this stuff, research suggests that, as far as PTSD goes, you won the bleeping jackpot.

What makes it worse is, every time it happens, you might feel disappointed in yourself, like you should be stronger. This just erodes whatever self-respect you have left. You’d never say stuff like that to a buddy to encourage them when they’re struggling…

You need to start by realizing that this happens to you because you don’t feel safe; so, how you start to fix it, is to work on increasing your sense of safety.

The ability to feel safe is like a muscle – and yours is, well… It’s not so strong. You strengthen it with exercises – stuff like relaxation. Grounding skills. These are your drills: practice this stuff. Be patient with yourself. What you’re trying to accomplish here is very hard work, so give it time.

Finally – you know that fine print I put at the end of every post? You know, the stuff that none of you ever read, because you don’t think there’s anything important under the pretty picture?

Yeah; it says that this blog is not a substitute for therapy. If you’re dealing with PTSD with dissociative symptoms and trying to fix it on your own, it’s a bit like trying to perform open heart surgery on yourself. I’m just sayin’ – there’s help out there. Go get some.

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~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? Thanks…

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (like, therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD: Reflex and The “Freeze” Response

…You know I’m all about feedback, right? You know this is YOUR blog, and I’ll write about whatever you need?

Well – my stats tracker thingy tells me somebody ended up on Coming Back Home by Googling “PTSD + Freeze response”.

And I thought, Huh – I don’t really have a good article on that. I mean, if I was Random Google Person, I’d be a little disappointed.

So – good suggestion, Random Google Person! This post is for you!

If you recall from previous discussions, PTSD is basically a survival reflex stuck in a loop with no off switch. This reflex has three parts, depending on what kind of threat you’re up against:

fight is where you respond to a threat by beating up on it. Military training works to strengthen this part of your survival reflex.

flight is where you run for the hills to get away from the threat.

freeze is what you do when neither of the above is an option.

In this post, we’re going to discuss the freeze response, the way it happens in the face of an actual threat. Next post, we’ll talk about dissociation, which is what happens when the “freeze” reaction gets stuck, like in PTSD or dissociative disorder.

It’s like this: imagine a goldfish.

It’s in a fishbowl. The cat just jumped on the table and stuck his paw into the bowl. What’s the fishy gonna do?

He’s can’t fight off the cat, and he can’t run away, because he’s in a fishbowl. Poor little fishy. The cat is about to enjoy some fresh sushi.

So – what does the fish do? He freezes; freezing helps him feel less pain, both physically and emotionally.

Freezing might feel like time has slowed down; like what’s happening isn’t real; or like he isn’t really there. The goldfish might feel like he’s floating above his body, watching the cat enjoy his sushi.

Feeling this way is a normal reaction to a situation of extreme, life-threatening danger, where you can’t fight and can’t get away.

If you’re a goldfish who’s about to get eaten by a cat, feeling like you’re floating above your body and the whole thing is not really happening is less terrifying, which is why our reflex is built this way.

But – suppose just as the cat is scooping up the goldfish, someone comes along and screams, startling the cat. Poor little fishy lives, but is scarred by this near-death experience: he might get stuck in this “freeze” reaction. He might end up with severe PTSD, and symptoms that we call dissociation. We’ll talk a bit more about that in the next post.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Spouses want to know: PTSD and Sexual Dysfunction

So – guess what we’re talking about today? (Go ahead, check the title again). That’s right.

*Disclaimer: This is a really broad topic, so I won’t be able to cover everything that’s relevant. The question was originally asked by a female spouse of a male veteran. Most of my patients are male and heterosexual, so I’m addressing the topic from that perspective. I don’t mean to leave anyone else out, I just try to stick to writing about what I know.

In person, some of the patients that I work with find this really awkward to discuss.

Well – look on the bright side: this is a blog! You don’t have to ask this stuff in person! All the answers, none of the awkwardness!

The research is pretty clear that there’s a link between PTSD and sexual dysfunction. Most studies show that in veterans with PTSD, about 8 to 9 out of every 10 have some sort of sexual dysfunction. That’s much higher than combat veterans without PTSD, and higher than veterans with other mental health diagnoses. “Sexual dysfunction” can be a whole list of different problems – including having less sexual desire; erectile dysfunction; premature ejaculation, or inability to reach orgasm.

8 to 9 out of every ten. That means that, if you have PTSD and you don’t have some sort of sexual dysfunction – you’re the exception.

If you didn’t know that before, then it’s important that you know this about your body, and what PTSD can do to it. It’s not you, it’s not your fault, it’s not because you’re doing something wrong. It’s not your partner’s fault either. Add it to the long list of things you dislike about PTSD.

But – let’s talk about how and why this happens, and then, most importantly, let’s talk about what to do about it.

First, the “why”: remember that PTSD is survival reflex on overdrive; remember how we talked about reflex making all your big muscle groups tense up? Yeah – apparently, your survival reflex doesn’t consider that part of your body as a big muscle… Go figure.

Basically, reflex thinks that anything that doesn’t help you fight or flee is a waste of energy.

PTSD also makes you feel anxious and hyper-alert pretty much all the time, and that makes it hard to get in the mood and stay in the mood for long enough. Many people who have PTSD also feel disconnected and detached from loved ones, and that can make it hard for both partners to get in the right headspace. Increased anger and irritability can also put a damper on your relationship, and that can make the physical part of your relationship suffer too.

…Sounds pretty bad, huh?

Yeah… I know…

It can get better. Not magically, overnight better, but slowly and with some work – it can get better.

(Yes, pills can help. Talk to your doctor about getting some. But don’t expect pills to be a quick, easy, magic cure-all.)

First – go to therapy, and work on learning to manage your PTSD. When you learn more about how to manage your symptoms, this will make a difference.

Next – consider couples therapy. Especially if you’ve been struggling with this stuff for a long time, chances are there’s a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings from both of you that are driving a wedge between you. Couples therapy may help you to reconnect and feel closer, and that might help.

Third – don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. As long as you’re willing to try, things can get better.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Spouses want to know: Physical Symptoms of PTSD

Hello again!

Our next question is, “Does PTSD have physical side effects?”

The answer is, yes, absolutely.

Now – before I get any further into this topic – I want to check in with how you’re doing reading this.

If you didn’t know about physical side effects, you might be thinking, “Great. As if PTSD wasn’t bad enough, now I’ve got a whole laundry list of physical issues to worry about too…

Hey – I hear you. What can I say – I’m not pretending to be the bearer of good news here.

But – you know what? This is your body we’re talking about. Knowing this means you’ll know what to expect, what to talk to your family doctor about. That gives you more control of your health than not knowing.

Also – knowing that it’s related to your PTSD can actually be a relief. Otherwise, you’re left thinking you have this laundry list of stuff going on and you don’t know why.

We’ve talked before about how PTSD is basically a threat-response reflex gone into overdrive. So, the physical symptoms of PTSD come from this reflex being cranked into overdrive all the time.

When your body responds to threat, your heart rate goes up. When you have PTSD, your ticker’s working harder all the time. This puts you at higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Your threat-response reflex makes your muscles tense up, to help you either fight off a threat or run away. When your muscles are tense all the time, you can develop chronic pain, especially in areas like your shoulders and back. Tension also makes us clench our teeth; that can lead you to grind your teeth, meaning you might have chronic headaches and jaw pain.

Since your threat-response reflex directs all available energy towards survival, it shuts down functions that are not essential to dealing with an immediate threat. So, it will suppress your digestive system and your immune system, because these are not immediately essential when your survival is being threatened.

What this means is that PTSD can lower your immune system. You might be more likely to get infections and get sick more often.

The impact on your digestive system can mean chronic cramps or indigestion; changes to your appetite; chronic heartburn or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also occur with PTSD.

Your threat-response reflex also leads your body to release more sugar and cholesterol into your bloodstream to feed your muscles; so, with PTSD you may have high cholesterol. Also, there is a link between blood sugar and insulin. So, there’s a link between PTSD and insulin resistance, as well as PTSD and diabetes.

How’re you doing with all this? I know… It’s quite the list of potential physical symptoms. It might be a good idea to make an appointment with your family doctor to get checked out for some of these risks.

Also, keep in mind that learning to manage your PTSD symptoms will help to lessen some of all these other concerns as well – so please keep in mind that things can get better.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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“I know I’m safe, so why am I still freaking out???”

This question is important, and it comes up a lot.

Okay – for me to explain this, you’ll have to imagine that your brain is a grapefruit.

(Hey – it’s either that, or this becomes a hard-core neurobiology lesson where I start throwing around Latin words that are harder to pronounce than my last name…)

…So – we’ll go with the grapefruit then?

The peel of the grapefruit is the “gray matter”, or cortex. It’s got all your smarts – this is where you analyze, make decisions, set priorities, and so on. You’re conscious only of the stuff that the gray matter does: the other parts of your brain do their thing behind the scenes, like an autopilot.

The fruit part of the grapefruit is the “white matter”. It’s a messenger – it sends ideas back and forth and makes your brain work quickly to translate a thought into an action.

The grapefruit’s got a few seeds in it. One of these seeds is a little thing called the amygdala. (This will be the only Latin word I’m throwing out there today, promise.) The amygdala sets off your fight/flight/freeze reaction, in response to anything that reminds it of a threat. It’s a reflex, so it doesn’t ask your permission before it goes off.

So – how is it that you can realize that everything’s okay, but still find your body reacting like you’re in danger?

Simple – the realizing that there’s no threat is coming from the peel of your grapefruit. But, at the same time, one of the seeds (your amygdala) is reminded of a threat, so it’s reacting as if you were in danger. Two different parts of your brain are doing two different things, at the same time.

It’s really important to know that this is how your brain works. If you don’t know, you might end up doing one of two things:

1. Telling yourself, “I should just suck it up and stop being so (bleep)ing scared, and what the (bleep) is wrong with me?”.

Yeah… Cause that’ll help, right? Fear is part of a reflex; beating up on yourself for it is sort of like blaming yourself for letting your toenails grow; you didn’t have a choice, so quit blaming yourself, it’s not your fault. Plus – talking to yourself this way just makes you feel shame and guilt, which feeds your depression. Do yourself a favour, and remind yourself that you are not to blame for your reflex.

2. The other option is that you start thinking, “I’m feeling so nervous that there must be something to be scared of and I’m just not seeing it”.

…If you want a quick, easy recipe for freaking yourself right out, then telling yourself that there are invisible dangers that you cannot sense is a good way to do it…

However, if you want to help yourself relax instead – then remind yourself that you’re feeling nervous because a very primitive part of your brain is being triggered to think of a threat; it’s not very smart, so it can’t tell the difference between real and imagined threats.

So, how do you try to stop it? You tell yourself that it’s just your threat reflex sounding a false alarm; then use your relaxation skills to help yourself to relax. (Yes, this is exactly why I keep droning on about how important it is to practice relaxation regularly…)

It’s simple – but simple and easy are two very different things. You’ll need a lot of practice to make it a habit to think this way, but once you’re successful, it will be a helpful tool.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Spouses want to know: “Where does the anger come from?”

I have a few more questions from spouses, and this is a really important one.

The answer is pretty straight forward: PTSD is basically the fight/flight/freeze reflex gone into overdrive, and anger is part of  the “fight” part of that reflex. You might remember that we discussed anger in this post.

Well then… that would make for a really short blog post, wouldn’t it?

If you’re reading this, then anger has probably had an impact on your life. I’m going to talk about it in more detail below, and that might be hard to read.

So – don’t go any further if you’re having a bad day and don’t need to be reminded of how anger has made life worse. Save it for another day. Otherwise, find a nice quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Set aside time to do a relaxation exercise when you’re done reading this – here‘s one that I’ve posted previously. Here‘s another.

Gee, I’m being a little bossy today, aren’t I?

If you’re just waiting for me to tell you to go pee before you read on, don’t worry. I’ll restrain myself.

Ready?

Okay.

If you’re a spouse, then you need to know where the anger does NOT come from: it doesn’t come from you, or what you said, or because you’re making the wrong thing for dinner. It’s not coming from the kids playing too loudly. It isn’t your fault. It’s easy to lose your confidence and start to blame yourself.

It’s also easy to get frustrated and blame your spouse – the anger is not coming from him/her either.

Look – you didn’t marry an idiot. (Well – if you did, then, this blog can’t help you with that…)

But – if you didn’t marry an idiot, then your spouse didn’t just magically become an angry jackass overnight for the fun of getting under your skin. PTSD makes a person feel like they’re under attack all the time, and anger is part of the reflex of reacting to threat.

PTSD is an injury. Anger is one of the ways that this injury hurts. It hurts anyone who might be on the receiving end of that anger – spouse, kids, random clerk at the grocery store.

It hurts the person with PTSD; they don’t choose to act like this, and a moment after they say something hurtful, scream at someone, or put their fist through the wall – they feel terrible about it.

As the spouse, you feel caught between trying to understand that this is an injury, but also feeling frustrated and angry that they can’t just cut it out.

Understanding is the first tool in making things better: the person with PTSD needs to understand that their anger is coming from their PTSD, and not from anything you did. So the solution is to manage their anger, not manage you. And as the spouse, you also need to know that their anger is coming from their PTSD, and not from them being a jerk. So the solution is to help them manage their anger, and to take care of yourself, because this is a lot for you to deal with too.

How’re ya doing? I warned you – it got a little heavy. If you feel a bit like this post punched you in the gut today, please take a minute to look after yourself. You don’t even have to scroll back up to find the hyperlinks to the relaxation exercises – here‘s the woods. Here‘s the water.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Finding Solid Ground When You’re Triggered

Hi!

Today, I want to tell you about grounding skills – the kind that you use when you’re being triggered, and you’re starting to feel sucked into an ugly old memory. Those of you who are getting help probably have a few of these already; for everyone else, these are your life jacket when you feel that you’re drowning. Learning to use these is an important investment in your well-being.

The key in this type of a situation is to use whatever tricks or strategies you can, in order to remind yourself that you are here in the present and the danger is over.

Some ideas for doing that include:

– look around the room; notice and name some of the things that you see. Becoming more aware of where you are now helps you fight off being sucked back into the past.

– rub the palms of your hands together. Pay attention to the sensation of warmth that this creates in your hands. Usually, our hands get cold and clammy when we’re nervous – so this little trick makes you feel calmer by changing how your hands feel.

– listen to music. You can pick either soothing, calming music to relax you, or you can pick something loud that you can sing along to, something that reminds you of a pleasant memory. (Singing out loud also makes you breathe deeper – and since we often hyperventilate when we’re triggered, this helps too).

– do any kind of physical activity that your pain and/or physical ability allows. Focus on how it makes your body feel. Your muscle tension will go down as you do this, and that will make you feel calmer.

– if you have a pet – touch your pet’s fur, talk to your pet, and/or hug your pet.

– carry something meaningful in your pocket, something that reminds you that you are here now, and that the danger is over. Touch it to re-orient yourself. If you didn’t have your current car or home when the trauma happened, your car or house keys will do: touch them to remind yourself that you are here now, and that event was in the past.

– remind yourself of today’s date. If you carry a cell phone, looking at your phone can be a good trick for this – look at today’s date, remind yourself of the date when the bad memory happened, and then firmly tell yourself, This is now, that was then; I am here now. Feeling scared is not the same as being in danger;  I may be reminded of back then, but I am here now and the danger is over.

(Of course, if the anniversary of the trauma is what’s triggering you – looking at the date is NOT the way to calm yourself. Here‘s some tips on how to get through it).

These are skills – so the more you practice, the better you get at using them…

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Where PTSD comes from, Part 3: How Reflex Messes with Your Thinking

Hi there!

Today we’re going to round out our discussion of what survival reflex does, by going over how it impacts our thinking.

Keep in mind that survival reflex is designed to save our life under circumstances of immediate threat. In those conditions, every moment counts, and every ounce of your energy could make the difference.

We discussed here how your reflex works differently (and much faster) than your usual, everyday thinking; and more recently, here, we talked about how reflex is run by a different part of your brain than conscious thinking. We’ve also covered how, to save energy, the body will interrupt day-to-day functions like the digestive system and the immune system, so it can redirect all available energy toward immediate survival.

When survival mode kicks in, your reflex takes energy away from the part of your brain that’s responsible for complex thinking. It redirects this energy toward your big muscle groups, to make it easier for you to fight or run. So – in the case of Dave the Zebra beating the daylights out of that lion, his survival reflex interferes with his ability to do stuff like: analyze things, think things through, look at a situation from a number of different perspectives, prioritize, look at the big picture, and so on.  And reflex does this on purpose – because complex thinking takes up time and energy, neither of which can be spared in a life-threatening emergency situation.

What your survival reflex does instead is put you on high alert, on the lookout for danger. What that means is, Dave’s attention is constantly darting around looking at everything – paying attention to every sight, every sound, evaluating everything in front of him to see whether it’s a possible threat.

If you’re in danger, taking too much time to look/listen to one thing in specific could lead you to miss a potential threat somewhere else in your environment; so, in an effort to identify a threat and save your life, your survival reflex interferes with your ability to concentrate and sustain attention on any one thing for very long. Once a threat is identified, reflex makes you go into a sort of “tunnel vision”, where all of your energy goes toward just dealing with that lion, and nothing else. Often, in highly dangerous circumstances, you tend to flip back and forth between the tunnel vision and the darting around looking for other sources of danger.

This reflex is designed to work in brief bursts, and to maximize your chances of survival in life-threatening circumstances. Your military training strengthens the “fight” part of the fight/flight/freeze response, and builds on it to help you get through some nasty situations.

In PTSD, this reflex gets stuck in a constant loop, so it’s hard to shut it off.

In learning to control it, step #1 is getting a really good understanding of it.  Once you know how it works, it gets easier to work against it.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Where PTSD comes from, Part 2: Fight/Flight/Freeze Response, Emotional Symptoms

(Disclaimer: This topic can be a little heavy for some people, so to compensate, I’m going to step up the goofiness today. )

Hi!

So – you know what? It occurred to me that I’m trying to explain the fight/flight/freeze response using zebras and lions, and…

Zebras don’t usually fight lions.

So before we go any further, you need to know more about Dave the Zebra. He’s not your ordinary zebra.

Dave’s had it with the lion bullying his friends. (You all remember what happened to George?)

Dave’s been learning karate. He’s gotten pretty good. The next time that lion messes with any of his friends, Dave’s going to unleash some zebra fury.

When the lion comes along, Dave’s reflex takes over. He feels the adrenaline rush; he hears the theme music from Rocky playing in his head…

He feels fear. Fear is not a choice – it’s part of reflex. Fear is a signal of possible danger.

And then he feels… anger. Rage. Maybe even vicious, blind rage, like he’s never felt before.

(How are you doing? Remember – if this is uncomfortable, take a moment to breathe and remind yourself that we’re talking about a zebra, a little horse in striped pajamas…)

Like fear, feeling rage in a potentially life-threatening situation is also reflex. Rage helps Dave summon every ounce of bad-ass that he’s got, and to focus on neutralizing the threat.

(Hey – if you’re a zebra pulling karate moves on a lion, every bit of help counts, right?)

And aside from that – he feels a whole lot of… nothing. Feeling numb is also part of reflex; you see, when an animal is in danger, it may be cold, tired, weak, hungry, or injured (or arguing with its wife). All of that stuff just gets in the way when you have to focus on survival. So, numbing everything out is important to survival – it helps you focus on the danger and nothing else.

The last emotion involved in the survival reflex results from adrenaline. Adrenaline is basically a drug that the body produces itself. It’s a painkiller, so it allows Dave to keep beating up on the lion, even if Dave is exhausted or injured himself. To help do that, adrenaline makes you feel a little loopy/drunk/happy. This is part of how the body protects itself from stuff like pain or fatigue getting in the way of survival.

Later, Dave might feel ashamed and even horrified that he felt pleasure at beating the crap out of the lion. That’s why it’s really important for him to know that these feelings are a hard-wired part of reflex; they are not a choice, and he is not to blame for how he felt at the time. Shame and guilt don’t help him heal – they just feed depression and keep him stuck.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Where PTSD comes from, Part 1: Fight/Flight/Freeze Response, Physical Symptoms

We’ve spent a couple of months talking about how your survival reflex works. Well, today we’re going to talk about what it actually does.

The fight/flight/freeze response is a basic survival reflex that is built into every animal. The part of your brain that powers is is called the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh. ) It’s a very primitive brain part, and we’re not consciously aware of what it does (ie., reflex is not a choice). Look at your thumbnail – that’s roughly the size of your amygdala.

When the amygdala spots what it thinks is a sign of danger, it goes into survival mode, and activates your fight/flight/freeze response.

Think of our friend that we talked about earlier – Dave the Zebra.

Although I’m sure this might seem goofy to some of you, I want you to use him as a grounding skill: anytime the discussion starts to hit too close to home, just remind yourself – we’re talking about zebras.

ZEBRAS.

Cute little horsies dressed in black-and-white striped pajamas…

So – Dave the zebra and his buddies are out enjoying some pasture. Suddenly, Dave spots that lion hiding behind the big rock.

Dave’s amygdala goes into gear. His adrenal glands kick in, so he feels an adrenaline rush. His breathing gets faster and his heart rate speeds up. His large muscle groups tense up: the idea here is to get as much muscle strength as possible, to give Dave the best chances of survival.

When blood flow is focused on feeding your big muscle groups so you can run or fight, your extremities are not a priority. That’s why your hands and feet might get cold and clammy: they’re not getting a lot of blood flow.

You sweat because sweating is the body’s way of cooling off. Survival reflex expects you to have to run or fight, which heats the body up. So, reflex thinks that breaking out in a cold sweat is a nice, helpful little detail.

Since the survival reflex directs all available energy towards survival, it shuts down functions that are not essential to dealing with the immediate threat. So, your survival reflex will suppress your digestive system and your immune system, because these seem like a waste of energy when your survival is being threatened.

That, in a nutshell, are the main physical symptoms of the survival reflex. When you have PTSD, these symptoms can become chronic: that’s how you end up with chronic muscle pain, (and jaw pain from clenching your teeth); as well as chronic indigestion in some cases.

Next up – the emotional impact of the fight/flight/freeze response.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD: The Role of Reflex, Part 3: Reflex has values

Hi again!

In a nutshell, here’s what we’ve discussed so far: reflex learns as a result of your experiences; but reflex isn’t very smart, so what it learns as “predictors of danger” is a mixed bag of good predictors and random stuff that was going on at the time that the danger happened.

Today we’ll discuss why reflex doesn’t bother filtering good from bad predictors of danger before learning them: because reflex values speed over accuracy.

To illustrate, let’s revisit our old friend, Dave the zebra.

Dave and his zebra friends are out enjoying some delicious pasture.

(I know – last we saw Dave, he was avoiding pasture, because of what happened to George. But he got help for that, and now he’s doing much better. He says thanks for asking.)

Dave catches sight of something out of the corner of his eye that might be a furry tail, like the lion’s. But he only got a glimpse, and he’s not sure.

What should he do – raise the alarm, or try to get a better look?

On the one hand, he didn’t get a good look, it could be nothing, and those other zebras can be pretty snooty if he gets it wrong.

On the other hand, taking a closer look wastes precious seconds that could be better spent getting everyone to safety.

Folks – from the viewpoint of your survival reflex, the only thing that matters is survival. Your survival reflex assumes that it’s better to make a fool of yourself by overreacting, than to hesitate and waste a second.

So – reflex learns by the principle of “better safe than sorry”, and reacts by that same principle.

This will lead to a lot of situations where your survival reflex will be convinced that you’re in life-threatening danger, even though you’re not. It’s reacting to a reminder, even if that reminder doesn’t make any sense to your “thinking” brain.

We’ve discussed how you can have a reaction to a trigger even when you understand that there’s no real danger; we’ve covered how important it is to NOT beat yourself up over this, because it’s an injury and not a personal failing or character flaw.

What you can do instead is use this knowledge to help yourself regain a sense of calm: when you’re triggered, the reaction can make it feel like the danger is very real. So it becomes really important to understand that being triggered does not mean being in danger: you can be triggered when there’s no danger.

It helps to understand that your survival reflex sometimes acts like a kid pulling the fire alarm at school when there’s no fire, but because he doesn’t want to write the math test.

Use this knowledge: when you’re triggered, remind yourself of where you are, and what you’re doing. Remind yourself that you’re safe, and it’s just your survival reflex going off, pulling the fire alarm at a faint reminder of danger. Reminding yourself of where you are and that you’re safe is a way of grounding yourself – and knowing how to ground yourself is an important coping skill.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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