Specializing in Trauma, PTSD, Complex Trauma, Addictions, Anxiety, Depression
Trauma & PTSD
We tend to think of trauma as a war, car accident, or sexual abuse. This isn’t entirely true. Trauma is not the actual event that happens to the person. Trauma is the reaction of the brain being overwhelmed by the event. When fear or negative emotions overwhelm the brain, it needs to find a way to protect itself. This is the experience of trauma. The protection of the brain is automatic, not a conscious decision. To handle the experience, the brain will often split the experience up into many different parts and store them in the brain separately. “The traumatizing event results in memories that are stored in a dysfunctional way, that is, stored in isolation, unassimilated into the memory networks of the individual. The lack of adequate assimilation means that the client is still reacting emotionally and behaviorally in ways consistent with the moment of trauma” (Shapiro, 2001, p17).
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is an anxiety disorder that can occur following a traumatic event. A psychological trauma, as opposed to a physical trauma or injury, occurs when you experience an emotionally disturbing or distressing event. Although we commonly think of trauma as a reaction to a violent event or a terrible accident, we know that individuals can also experience emotional trauma after being physically injured or diagnosed with a serious illness. During a traumatic event, you may have felt that your life or that of another’s was in danger and that you had no control of the outcome. Even witnessing an event, in which someone died or was seriously injured, can cause PTSD symptoms and result in a diagnosis of it. It is not unusual for you to experience uncomfortable or upsetting memories of a traumatic event, as well as potentially strong physical reactions. You may also experience uncomfortable or distressing emotions such as anger, fear, and helplessness. If these symptoms do not go away, or if they interfere with your daily activities or your enjoyment in life, it’s time to seek help. (Baranowsky, Dr. Anna; Lauer LMHC, Teresa. What Is PTSD?)
What are the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
* Vivid flashbacks of the traumatic event
* Intrusive thoughts and images of the traumatic event
* Feeling distressed when exposed to reminders of the trauma
* Nightmares and having difficulty sleeping
* Physical sensations including pain, sweating, nausea and trembling
* Being easily upset or angry
* Avoiding thinking about the event or avoiding going to places that remind you of the event
* Extreme alertness or vigilance about yours or others safety
* Being irritable or aggressive
Complex Trauma CPTSD
Complex Trauma is often the result of trauma we have experienced in our childhood or from ongoing traumatizing events. Breaches to the secure bond with a parent or caregiver causes us to have an insecure attachment with those around us and will frequently affect us well into adulthood. Complex PTSD is the result of being exposed to and experiencing traumatizing events on an ongoing basis. These events may be traumas such as ongoing sexual or physical abuse or traumas such as being persistently shamed, scared, and neglected.
Clients with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffer long-term symptoms including:
* Persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive or inhibited anger
* Chronically overwhelmed with emotion or where one doesn’t feel anything (numb)
* Difficulty with sustaining attention and concentration
* Forgetting parts of traumatic events
* Reliving traumatic events
* Feeling detached from mental processes or body (dissociation)
* Feeling helpless, shame, guilt, stigma and different from everybody else
* Feelings of self loathing
* Being isolated, not trusting others
* Feeling hopelessness and despair
For more information about post traumatic stress, the symptoms and the treatments available, please feel free to contact me so that we can discuss your situation.
Research indicates a positive correlation between traumatic events an individual has experienced and an increased risk for addictions. Individuals who struggle with addictions often have a history of trauma, such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse. Addictions can range in severity from mild to severe and can be categorized as substance-related or behaviour-related addictions.
Behavioral addictions, such as gambling, shopping, internet gaming, and sex addictions, are hypothesized as using the same neurological reward/pleasure pathways as do substance-related addictions. These specific neurocircuits have been identified as part of the reward/pleasure pathways, which reinforce the addictive behaviours. The neurotransmitters dopamine, opioid peptides, glutamate, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are integral parts of the reward pathways (Koob, 1992). Substances such as cocaine and alcohol stimulate the neurotransmitters in these pathways so that the individual experiences intense reward/pleasure. In the case of addictive behaviors, the reward-based behaviors have evolved to states of dyscontrol (Schmidt, 2005).
Anxiety and Panic
What You Need to Know About Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are fairly common and are not dangerous.
As stated above, many people will have panic attacks in their lives, so they are common. Additionally, panic attacks are incredibly intense, but they don’t lead to the outcomes people sometimes fear when having attacks such as having a heart attack, dying, or going crazy. Many people who see me to treat their panic attacks have already visited the hospital or their doctor and received tests to rule out medical causes of their symptoms, so I can be confident in telling them that they aren’t going to die from having a panic attack even if it feels that way.
2. Panic is your body’s natural reaction to extreme stress.
Panic is an evolutionarily evolved mechanism that is designed to help you survive life-threatening danger by triggering your fight/flight/freeze response. This can make you fight harder, run faster, or play dead when, for example, you are attacked by a large animal. In this situation, panic just might help you to survive. However, predation is a much lower threat in the modern world, and now panic attacks are often caused by a stressful event that is not life-threatening but is triggering this ancient survival mechanism. This is why I often refer to panic attacks as a false alarm.
3. Panic attacks tend to last a short period of time and will never last forever.
Panic attacks are self-limiting as your body can’t maintain this incredibly high level of anxiety for very long. After 5-15 minutes panic attacks resolve on their own. This is important to know, because, often, people believe the panic attack ended as a result of them fleeing a situation that caused stress and that it would have lasted forever if they hadn’t fled. In reality, even if people remain in an anxiety producing situation, their panic symptoms will rapidly subside.
4. You are not going to die, faint, “go crazy,” or lose control of your body when you have a panic attack.
People don’t die from panic attacks and don’t go crazy from having panic attacks. As stated above, panic is an evolved mechanism that is designed to help you survive dangerous situations.
5. Panic attacks continue to cause problems if you are afraid of having more panic attacks and change your behavior to try to avoid having additional panic attacks.
Examples of behavior change include stopping going out in public, because you are afraid you will have a panic attack and not exercising, because it makes your heart race and causes fear of having an additional attack. Fear and avoidance (of situations or physiological reactions) communicate to your body that you are in danger and that you are only safe because of avoidance. This leads to a cycle of increasing panic attacks and avoidance.
6. When people have panic attacks, they tend to pay more attention to physiological symptoms (such as heart rate), and this tends to increase the likelihood of having additional panic attacks.
Monitoring heart rate or other panic symptoms throughout the day communicates to your body that you are still in danger and increases the likelihood of additional attacks. Many people who have panic attacks have the experience of additional attacks being triggered by body monitoring, as they begin to fear even subtle changes in their physiology such as increased heart rate.
What to Do if You Don’t Want to Keep Having Panic Attacks
Challenge fearful thoughts about panic attacks.
If you are not afraid of panic attacks, they are much less likely to continue or cause problems in your life. Using the information presented above, you can challenge fears, such as the fear that you’re having a heart attack, and instead, correctly identify panic for what it is, a false alarm of your survival mechanism.
2. Avoid avoidance.
In other words, don’t do anything different because you have had panic attacks. Don’t avoid activities, places, or people because you have had a panic attack. Do the things that scare you as long as they aren’t harmful or dangerous. This will keep your panic in check and will lead your body and mind to recalibrate. You being brave and confronting situations that cause anxiety communicates a sense of safety and exploration that is an effective way to overcome panic. If you can, cultivate a mindset of “bring it on” in relation to anxiety and your panic symptoms and boldly challenge yourself to approach situations that you used to fear. When you are able to get into this mindset of bravery and curiosity, panic symptoms evaporate quickly.
3. Get out of the habit of monitoring physiological symptoms such as heart rate.
If you notice yourself doing this, direct your attention externally by silently describing the world around you. Imagine that you are talking to someone on the phone and trying to paint them a mental image of what you are seeing. Use words to describe colors, patterns, textures, and other aspects of what you are seeing, as this mental activity is incompatible with internal monitoring and will help you to get out of the habit of excessive monitoring of your physiology.
While this article presents information about panic and some tools for overcoming panic attacks, I strongly encourage anyone who has panic attacks to seek out a psychotherapist who specializes in treating anxiety and panic. I also encourage anyone who believes they might be having symptoms of a health condition to seek medical treatment first and foremost. The information that I present in this article is largely drawn from a treatment protocol for early intervention to prevent panic disorder developed by Bonnie Zucker, Ph.D.
Article by Daniel Zamir, Psy D., 2018 (see link for full article)