Emotional Trauma: How Post-Traumatic Stress Impacts Our Brains

Often when the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is used, it is associated with members of the military, especially war veterans. As times change and people become more familiar with trauma and its impact on each of our lives, we are starting to recognize just how the stress connected to past and present events impacts our daily lives.

How does PTSD affect the brain?

PTSD is often accompanied by a significant psychological shock. First, it is essential to understand that considerable stress and trauma, when experienced or witnessed, puts the brain in a constant state of fear even after the danger has surpassed.

The scenario below illustrates how PTSD plays out in real life.

Five-year-old Devin witnesses his mother verbally and physically abuse his older sister nearly every day of his childhood. He is in constant fear for his sister’s safety and his own. Watching these horrific acts at such a young age has affected Devin’s development. Devin often has flashbacks and other intrusive thoughts associated with the abuse. Devin is easily angered, hypervigilant and has difficulty trusting others and lives with the constant fear that someone will harm him.

In this situation, the amygdala — the part of the brain that processes your emotions and assesses fear — has become over-stimulated. The amygdala hijacks the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that uses logic to regulate emotions and decision-making — leaving Devin with only the ability to process emotions and fear through a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Devin is now a teenager, and his girlfriend notices that he gets angry at her for what she considers small things and he is constantly questioning her love for him. Devin has even punched a hole in the wall before. She fears that if angry enough, he may hit her one day and suggests that Devin talk to someone about what he is experiencing. Devin agrees to speak to a counselor and begins to understand that much of what he is feeling is a result of witnessing abuse as a child.

Who Is Affected by PTSD?

It is important to understand that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect anyone of any age and that it is not limited just to the military community. Traumatic events are not experienced by everyone in the same way, because people react to trauma differently. Rather than just treating the behavior, identifying, understanding and treating the trauma itself is more likely to have a successful outcome.

Treatment Options for PTSD

Understand that there is hope. Treatment options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, include but are not limited to: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and sometimes prescription medications can help as a support to therapy.

 

Are you or someone you know in need of treatment for PTSD? Help is available at our CHRIS Counseling Centers. Contact the CHRIS 180 Care Team at (770)722-0080.

 

 

 

Traneisha Foriest, BS
Traneisha.Foriest@CHRIS180.org
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