This week is World PTSD Awareness Day. At a time when compassion, kindness and humanity of their highest expression are being called for, June 27th is a day to look with fresh sight at the world and those around us. The impacts of trauma are everywhere and affecting a broad cross section of our global family.
What is it?
It has been called many things; ‘shell shock’ during WWI, ‘war neurosis’ during WWII; and ‘combat stress reaction’ during the Vietnam War. The modernised term PTSD was introduced in the1980s. PTSD is essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event and was documented by an Egyptian physician who described a hysterical reaction to trauma, as far back as in 1900 BCE.
The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death. Examples of traumatic events include:
- serious accidents
- being told you have a life-threatening illness
- violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, sexual assault, burglary, robbery, or mugging
- military combat
- house fires
- natural or man-made disasters
- terrorist attack
- traumatic childbirth (and as a birthing partner)
- prolonged bullying/ hate crimes or domestic violence
- childhood neglect
Your exposure to traumatic event can happen in one or more of these ways:
- You experienced the traumatic event
- You witnessed, in person, the traumatic event
- You learned someone close to you experienced or was threatened by the traumatic event
- You are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (for example, if you are a first responder to the scene of traumatic events)
In their comprehensive resource material online, https://www.ptsduk.org/ sates: ‘At the time someone is being exposed to this intensely fearful situation, their mind ‘suspends’ normal operations and it copes as well as it can in order to survive. This might involve reactions such as ‘freezing to the spot’ or instead the opposite ‘flight away’ from the danger.Until the danger passes the mind does not produce a memory for this traumatic event in the normal way. Unfortunately when the mind presents the memory for filing it can be very distressing. The memories such as the facts of what happened, the emotions associated with the trauma and the sensations touch, taste, sound, vision, movement, and smell can be presented by the mind in the form of nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive unwanted memories. These re-experiences and flashbacks are a result of the mind trying to file away the distressing memory, but understandably can be very unpleasant and frightening because they repeatedly expose the sufferer to the original trauma.’
Trauma symptoms vary from person to person, but some examples are:
Increased anxiety and emotional arousal:
- Hypervigilance (On constant ‘red alert’)
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. Pounding heart, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Irrational and intense fear
- Reduced tolerance to noise (hyperacusis)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being easily moved to tears
- Panic attacks/anxiety/depression/mood swings
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Anger or aggressive behaviour
- Tense muscles
Avoidance and numbing
- Work-related or relationship problems
- Inability to remember important aspect of the trauma
- Loss of interest in activities and life in general
- Sense of a limited future
- Feeling numb and empty
- Avoidance of people and places
- Feeling isolated
- Frequent periods of withdrawal into oneself
Re-experiencing the traumatic event
- Flashbacks (Acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
- Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
- Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
Other common symptoms
- Feeling suicidal
- Self harm and self-destructive tendencies
- Feeling distrustful and suspicious/blaming others
- Guilt, Shame, embarrassment or self blame
- Misuse of alcohol/drugs/gambling and/or food
- Seeking out high-risk/dangerous pursuits
- Physical aches and pains
- Over-reactions to minor situations
- Fear of being alone and fear of being in crowds
Why does PTSD cause physical pain?
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can cause pain; for example, hyperarousal symptoms can often lead to tense muscle pain that can in turn become chronic. This anxiety and hypervigilance that often comes with PTSD can increase the tension you put on your muscles and joints in general. Elevated cortisol levels for prolonged periods can cause a myriad of health issues from weight gain to cell and joint inflammatory responses (arthritis, fibromyalgia)
Healing through Yoga
Because of the meditative nature of yoga; the combination of breath, movement and awareness cultivation, there have been a number of studies supporting the benefits in healing of trauma and symptoms of PTSD. Many report the relief of chronic pain, the rewiring of the nervous system from hyper-arousal to more balanced and present experience responses as well as the ability to seperate thoughts and emotional responses to their physiology minimising trigger mechanisms. The foundational premise of meditation and yoga ‘I am not my thoughts, I am not my body’, ‘I am on my mat and here and now I am safe and I am present’. Studies have also found that movement therapy that focuses on trauma storage areas of the body such as the hips and lower back, can significantly improve recovery of trauma and symptoms of PTSD when used in conjunction with other therapy like CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).
- Seek a class that has a ‘non-physical touch’ option by the teacher. If you feel comfortable then discuss this quietly with the teacher at the beginning of the class and request that you not be touched.
- Skip certain poses: ‘Table top’, ‘Happy Baby’ are just some of the poses that can cause trigger responses and flash-backs for some people. Since we are never certain when these may occur, if you are working through a trauma process, than skip these poses until you feel more aligned and comfortable experimenting with your practice.
It’s also important to recognise the poses that are being offered are only suggestions. You are the boss when it comes to your body.
- Happy Baby Pose- choose legs up the wall instead
- Table Top- Choose bridge pose or child’s pose instead
- Down facing Dog- choose puppy pose, forward fold or child’s pose instead.
- Savasana: the final ‘resting pose’ in a yoga practice can be very uncomfortable and confronting for some people. The physical purpose of the pose is to allow the body to recharge from the physical practice. The “typical” Savasana pose begins with the student laying on their backs, with their legs long and arms out to the side with their eyes closed. The teacher may or may not turn off the lights, and most likely will remain silent during this time period.
What can you do?
If this pose or the environment causes you to be uncomfortable, here are some options you can experiment with to find what is the most restful for you:
- Instead of laying on your back, turn and rest on your favourite side. Explore bringing your knees in close to the chest and resting that way.
- Come up to a seated position and sit however is most comfortable for you. Placing your hands on top of your legs or on the floor can provide a safe and grounding connection..
- If closing your eyes is difficult or uncomfortable, try lowering your eyelids a little and looking at the floor and focusing on one point while you breath
Sara Picken-Brown teaches Yoga (and a variety of classes) for Valetudo Group, studios and corporate organisations in Britain with an inclusive approach. Having experienced the trauma of domestic abuse and the recovery process that followed Sara knows first hand the healing and freedom that can be achieved through a thoughtful and nurturing yoga practice. With a teacher that encourages and honours personal agency, intuitive development and choice. Sara went on to study counselling and psychotherapy and brings these complimentary skills to her classes, she aims to provide a safe space for all her students to grow, move and heal.
If you believe a child is dealing with trauma check the following symptoms which can present a little differently than in adults. https://www.ptsduk.org/what-is-ptsd/symptoms-of-ptsd/
Sole Survivor PTSD support Group: http://www.ptsdsupport.co.uk/
The team from mind.org.uk provide information on a range of topics
Other Useful organizations and services
Traumatic Stress Service
Maudsley Hospital, 99 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AZ
tel. 020 3228 2969
National referral centre (usually via Community Mental Health Teams). Offers rapid assessment to people suffering from PTSD, or related problems
Hallam House, 56-60 Hallam St, London W1W 6JL
Helpline: 0845 303 0900
Independent charity providing free confidential support to victims of crime
ASSIST (Assistance Support and Self Help in Surviving Trauma)
11 Albert Street, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 2QE
helpline: 01788 560 800 tel. 01788 551 919
Support, understanding and therapy for people experiencing PTSD, families and carers
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
Victoria Buildings, 9-13 Silver St, Bury BL9 OEU
tel. 0161 797 4484 web: www.babcp.com
Promotes the development of the theory and practice of behavioural and cognitive psychotherapies. Can provide details of accredited therapists. Full directory of psychotherapists available online
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
15 St John’s Business Park, Lutterworth, Leicestershire LE17 4HB
tel. 01455 883 316 (to find a suitable therapist)
minicom: 01455 550 307 web: www.bacp.co.uk
For details of practitioners in your area
Combat Stress (Ex-Services Mental Welfare Society)
Tyrwhitt House, Oaklawn Road, Leatherhead KT22 0BX
tel. 01372 841 600 web: www.combatstress.com
For members of all ranks of the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy. Three treatment centres available
Cruse Bereavement Care
PO BOX 800, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1RG
helpline: 0844 477 9400 tel. 020 8940 1671
For all those who have been bereaved
The Compassionate Friends
53 North Street, Bristol BS3 1EN
helpline: 0845 123 2304 web: www.tcf.org.uk
For bereaved parents and their families
Counselling and Psychology Today Directories
Counselling Directory: www.counselling-directory.org.uk
Psychology Today: www.psychologytoday.com/gb/counselling
Both directories provide a huge support network of therapists, enabling users to find a therapist close to them and appropriate for their needs. PTSD sufferers can find a range a information from articles written by professionals, local events, multiple information pages and more.