PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Many individuals who experience trauma are living with PTSD but may think the symptoms are just a part of their personality, especially if the traumatic events occurred during childhood.
What does PTSD do to your brain?
Your amygdala is the place where you sense a threat and move into a reactionary response. Those responses can fall into fight or flight. Without PTSD, a perceived threat triggers your brain, and that signal gets sent to your prefrontal cortex, where you store your logical reasoning, and you can quickly determine whether your life is in danger.
If you experienced one traumatic event or several over time, your brain goes into a protective mode with PTSD. It’s as though you build a wall down the middle of your skull, and when your amygdala fires at the back of your brain after experiencing a trigger that it interprets as a threat, that signal cannot get to the prefrontal cortex at the front of your brain for proper processing. So instead of the threat signal lessening, it keeps hitting that wall and bouncing back to your amygdala, saying, “this isn’t safe. I need to respond. Now.”
If you see yourself experiencing any or all of the following symptoms of PTSD, you may want to seek professional help.
What are the triggers?
Triggers can be anywhere, unfortunately, and they are different for different people based on your experiences. When you’re living with PTSD, you can react to triggers without fully understanding why.
Sometimes, they’re apparent. Maybe you’re driving, and there is a car accident that you go past. Other times, they could be something your subconscious picks up on that you may not even notice, but you start feeling “off.” This could be a song playing in the background at the grocery store or a particular smell that was present when something happened to you. Take a look at some of the symptoms below.
Do you startle easily?
Do you notice yourself jumping or flinching when someone walks into a room and starts talking? Do your arms shoot out seemingly involuntarily if you hear a loud noise? This annoying little trait may not be a personality trait but rather a symptom of your amygdala on overload.
Remember, PTSD is your brain’s way of trying to keep you safe in a way that you never have to experience the trauma ever again. In doing so, there is a part of your brain that is continuously scanning subconsciously for a reason for you to jump into fight or flight.
The jumpiness you’re experiencing is due to the inability to slow down and analyze the situation before reacting to the trigger. Whether life-threatening or not, your brain isn’t taking any chances.
Are you reliving the trauma?
If you have flashbacks or dreams that make you feel like you’re reliving the traumatic event(s), your brain is trying to process and work through what happened. But with PTSD, you haven’t consciously worked through what happened; therefore, it keeps coming back and putting you in the situation to relive it.
Another way people who experience PTSD is by having the same conversations about what happened with others. Instead of moving forward from the event(s), you’re trapped in the event itself, explaining it repeatedly.
This can also make it difficult to fall asleep at night because the brain is trying to make sense of something that traumatized you. Still, the emotions and the event are stuck in the amygdala and can’t get through to the part of your brain that can process and heal productively.
Do you have a short fuse?
People dealing with undiagnosed PTSD may consider themselves angry people by nature. But that isn’t the case. This is the fight part of the amygdala that is exaggerated and acts as the sole response to triggers.
For example, maybe you’re doing just fine at the grocery store. Suddenly you notice that a person with a full cart is in the ten items or less line, and you lose your temper and yell at them about it. Or you’re driving, and the driver in front of you is going slower than you want, and you start honking your horn and waving your arms at them to get them to go faster.
Neither of those triggers is life-threatening, but they put you right into fight mode. This can happen anywhere and at any time. After the fact, you may not remember why you were so angry.
Are you withdrawing?
Have your friends and family members asked why you don’t come around anymore? And when they ask, are you at a loss for an answer that makes sense? This could be the flight part of your amygdala acting out its idea of how to protect you.
Subconsciously, you may feel like being away from people makes you safer. You may notice that you feel more anxious or even start to sweat when you think about being in the middle of a social event with many people. If you weren’t an introvert before you experienced trauma, this could be another symptom of PTSD.
It’s okay to get help.
If you notice that you’re struggling with your mental health, we encourage you to make an appointment to chat with us. All consultations are virtual and confidential. We have years of specializing with others who struggle with PTSD and we would be honored to help you take the next steps towards a healthier and stress-free life.
It takes time and effort, but when you can fully understand what you’re dealing with and how to work through it, you’ll be amazed at how you feel when you get to the other side!