What Is PTSD And How Does It Affect Your Normal Functioning?
Bad things happen. This is a fact of life. No one can be happy and lucky forever. Pain is inevitable.
But some pains are worse than others. Sure, you have your informational PTSD pain, character-building pain, and the pain that leads to catharsis. You can’t get out of a bad relationship without going through a painful breakup. That pain is necessary to live a happy life.
However, some pain is unnecessarily painful. There is nothing to be gained from it. Or even if it is, the same lesson could have been learned much more effectively and at a lower cost.
Any of this pain, whether it was helpful or not, can leave a mark on a person. We call this symptom PTSD or “post-traumatic stress disorder.” You may have heard of PTSD, as it is a relatively recent development in the theory of how the human brain works.
Today we are going to talk about PTSD. Why does this happen? What does it do to you? And how can you healthily respond to this? Let’s start with this first question.
Why Does PTSD Happen?
A human mind is a tool for survival. Humans developed such large brains because the intelligence they gave us was useful rather than adaptive to any environment.
Adaptation through intelligence and persistence are both superpowers of the human race. We can integrate and process information far more profoundly than any other animal, and we can choose to push ourselves beyond our limits even when it’s dangerous.
But this power has a shadow: trauma. You see, part of the way the human brain works is that it emphasizes the negative. If you’re a prehistoric person picking roots and berries in the forest, the signs of another person’s death at the hands of a saber-toothed tiger will stick with you.
You will remember those signs so you know to either keep an eye out for the tiger or avoid the area altogether. And if you are attacked (or even witness an attack), your memory of that lesson will be even more intense. But at the same time, you can see how there can be diminishing returns to a certain level of remembering these symptoms and events.
If you fear that a tiger is chasing you all the time, you may find it hard to eat, sleep, or be happy and let your guard down. The same trend applies to modern people as well. The human mind retains this lesson so intensely that it becomes engrossed in their lives.
What Does PTSD Do?
If you want a strictly scientific answer, PTSD will typically cause an overproduction of cortisol and noradrenaline. Both of these are hormones that act as neurotransmitters in the brain. Cortisol is a stress chemical, as it relates to muscle tension.
An abundance of cortisol allows you to contract your muscles faster. But at the same time, if you have too much of it, you’re stuck in tension forever with no release.
Noradrenaline has a similar function, but with decision-making rather than muscle action. This is the chemical responsible for triggering your “fight or flight” response. It will hit you like a truck, and you will find yourself trying to choose between acting in response to any situation or avoiding the situation altogether. This brings with it its unexpected problems.
In response to fireworks or sprinkler fires, you may develop stress and prepare for danger and loss. You may also have a fight or flight response because someone asks you what time it is.
Most people who suffer from PTSD do not know what is happening to their bodies. All they will know is that they are under a lot of pressure and panic due to their circumstances. It can get in the way of both going to work and having fun for several reasons.
The human mind is not strictly rational. This is generally an advantage, as it allows for lateral and abstract thinking. But it also means that a person can get a PTSD trigger from something that makes no sense. As a result, it can be impossible for a person to predict their motivations.
And if a trigger can make normal behavior very difficult for you and triggers can be anywhere, having PTSD can suddenly turn the world into a giant minefield.
How Is PTSD Treated?
There are two levels at which PTSD is treated: cognitive and chemical. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat PTSD to help the sufferer gain control over their mind. They work with a therapist to be mindful of when they are at risk.
Because the threat is quite unusual for most people, a cognitive approach can do much to help a person overcome their PTSD simply by recognizing that they are not at risk. Their body is telling them they are into it.
The other side of PTSD is focusing on the chemical side of things. The most common medications to treat PTSD are anti-anxiety medications, which limit the amount of anxiety-causing chemicals your body makes, and antidepressants.
Antidepressants help strengthen the amygdala, which helps you process your emotions better. If you have strong emotional processing skills, then emotions that feel overwhelming can be dealt with better and faster than ever before.
This does not mean that these are cures. Some people deal with PTSD for the rest of their lives. But all PTSD can at least be reduced in severity with appropriate cognitive and chemical treatments.
While some PTSD lasts a person’s life, most will fade with time and increase emotional resilience. If you or someone you love is dealing with something like this, remember that there is always help out there.