Saturday, May 22, 2010

Trauma and the Stress Response

According to the article, "The Biological Response to Psychic Trauma", through arousal, the body responds to increased phsyical or psychological demands by releasing norepinephrine (NE) and adrenorcorticotrophin (ACTH). Both of these hormones play a major role in the release of corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF). The hypothalamus also secretes throxin releasing hormone (TRH) which activates the secretion of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, CRF and vasopressin.

Of course, I could keep going on and on with all the hormones that are released because of the arousal process by the body to some stimuli of fear. But as you can see and if you read the article in detail, there is a lot that happens when we are introduced to something that brings the fear up in us. It is biological and is just not all in your head.

As the article goes on to state, these hormones help the body mobilize the energy it needs to deal with the stimuli or fear that it is receiving. Biological functions such as increased glucose release to power the cells to increasing the immune function of the body as a way of protecting us when under stress, all occur in these situations. In a well functioning body, stress produces rapid responses of hormones but if chronic stress persists all the time, than the response to stress is less than effective. Prolonged durations of chronic stress desensitize the body and hormones are not secreted or produced in the levels they are needed nor at the pace which they are needed.

Here are some findings from the article about PTSD and Hormone Levels

Abnormalities of the these hormone systems in the body are often found in patients with PTSD.

Increased 24 hour norepinephrine and epinephrine secretions with PTSD veterans compared to patients with other psychiatric diagnoses.

One study showed blunted ACTH response to CRH stimulation

Found that the severity of PTSD was directly related to baseline cortisol level.
Prolonged duration of stress is not just a function of the hormones that are released but the capacity of the individual to deal with the stress and manage arousal.

Severe chronic stress in animals results in a physiological state which resembles dependence on high levels of exogenous opioids.

Because fear activates the opioid peptides, the body can become conditioned to future stressors and to events that would normally not be considered stressful - psychic numbing.

Because of psychic numbing, there is a correlation between PTSD (trauma) and self mutilation. People who engage in self mutilation often have a history of severe childhood trauma.

One of the hallmarks of PTSD is the intrusive re-experiencing of elements of the trauma in nightmares, flashbacks or somatic reactions which seem to be triggered by autonomic arousal.

Chronic sleep problems are often found in people with PTSD due to chronic hyperarousal. Studies have shown increased sleep latency, more awakening, less total sleep time and less REM time.

In a study, it was found that post traumatic nightmares occur during any stage of the sleep cycle and most tend to occur during 2 and 3 am during Stage 2 or Stage 3 sleep (possibly during the transition to REM sleep). When a patient reported the nightmares during stage 2 or 3, it was the exact reliving of the traumatic experiences but if it was in REM, the nightmares were more likely anxiety filled dreams.

Traumatic experiences have demonstrated an increase in symptoms of respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular and endocrine systems in people with PTSD.

As you can see, this is just the tip of the iceberg in the research that has been done with respect to trauma and PTSD. If any of what I have quoted in this blog post interests you, I would urge you to read the entire article referenced below. Bessel Van Der Kolk and his associates and colleagues are some of the pioneers in how trauma affects the body in biological ways. This isn't pie in the sky concepts. It is real and anyone who has been through trauma knows just how real it is.

We are very much influenced and impacted by events in our past or by repeated durations of chronic stress. Yes, there are varying degrees to these different stressors but they affect us biologically. All too often, we go through our lives trying to run from them and trying not to acknowledge these things. That is understandable because it is not an easy thing to deal with past trauma and heal from it. It takes work and it takes the safety and support of those who understand how to help an individual heal. It takes a great deal of patience both for the person who is traumatized and the support network working with that person.

However, if traumatized people continue to avoid their past, it will catch up to them in some way. Whether it is through a medical condition of a body that is so overwhelmed or whether it is through some form of acting out that brings you front and center with a past you are trying to forget, trauma will catch up with you. Those who have been through trauma, understand this from a very instinctual level but often they have learned to cover the trauma up, avoid it and act as if everything is ok. All the time though, these traumatized individuals know that this is far from the truth.

It is important to note, that traumatized people need to know is that whatever they have gone through in their lives, they are not alone. Others have walked in those same shoes and are healing in astounding ways from it. There is hope. Yes, healing can be difficult but the other side of it can be so beautiful and provide so much more joy to life than most can ever imagine.

While you may not understand what you need to do in order to heal from it, the first step is beginning to acknowledge that something happened and that you need to begin the process. The process will unfold as it needs to, if you allow it to and if you find a person that is safe, trustworthy and fully understands the path which you walk. You don't have to know all the answers and you don't have to heal it all in the shortest amount of time possible, but in order to heal, you have to take the step into the unknown. When you take the step, you will be surprised and amazed at all there is out there for you and for your life.

Source Of Information:
Anxiety Research (U.K.), Volume 4: Pages 199-212
The Biological Response to Psychic Trauma: Mechanisms and Treatment Of Intrusion and Numbing

*For more articles, check out the Mind Body Thoughts Blog

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a very interesting article. I'm looking forward to following the links you provide. I think you'll also find the following information pretty life-changing!
    For a long time therapy has involved talking about what happened. This basically often means reliving what happened, which can serve to reinforce the trauma. And you know what? The actual event - the trauma itself - is usually not the real problem.
    The real problem is how you reacted to the abuse. To be clear: I am differentiating between the abuse, and the immediate, in the moment reaction - the limbic system and R-complex response.
    The reason why some people have PTSD is because they reacted more strongly than others and so the trauma was greater.
    There is a new way of healing trauma - it is called Reference Point Therapy. It is an emotionally based alternative healing method, incredibly simple, gentle, and fast.
    I have written an article it, and how it is particularly useful in healing the trauma of abuse. Please have a look:
    Wishing you peace and love,






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