How can we understand PTSD symptoms from a neurological perspective?

Experiencing trauma symptoms day in and day out can be distressing and ultimately exhausting.

Constant replaying, or avoiding the memory, hyper vigilance, anxiety and anger can all wear away at a person’s confidence and resilience after a while.

And it is natural to wonder when will these heavy feelings leave?

The fight or flight response is one of our most primitive survival systems and is designed for to allow us to act in the face of life threatening danger.

The highly aroused emotions of fear and helplessness present during the trauma become inextricably, biologically linked to the memory of the event.

From a neurological point of view these symptoms can be compared to a faulty burglar alarm that is triggered and goes off for no reason. A person suffering from trauma symptoms is triggering their fight or flight response unnecessarily when there is no present danger, constantly reliving what happened and igniting the feelings all over again each time.

The rational, thinking part of our brain (pre frontal cortex) can be thought of as the policeman in this scenario. He tries to reassure the owner (the traumatised person) that nothing is wrong but he can’t be heard over the alarm.

This is why pleas from others or even ourselves to ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’ are irrelevant because the brain has become hardwired to re-experience over and over the memory of what happened.

This is why sometimes well intentioned advice to ‘move on’ or ‘get over’ what happened is pointless because the connection has been made and so it is extremely difficult to rationalise or to wilfully stop the thoughts or feelings.

 

What's the difference between trauma symptoms and PND symptoms?

Anxiety and panic for example are symptoms of both disorders. Trouble sleeping can be present with both trauma and PND.

Left untreated it is not uncommon for trauma symptoms to cause depression.

Living day to day with trauma symptoms of high anxiety, hypervigilance, anger, sadness, recurrent thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks can drag a person down into a very low mood and depression.

By treating the trauma symptoms first, a window of opportunity is created to tackle the other symptoms of PND.

The symptoms of trauma can often be addressed in 2 or 3 sessions. The symptoms and issues around PND can be more established and may require more sessions with a qualified medical professional such as a Clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist or hypnotherapist.