Moving Through PTSD
Working in Public Safety often causes PTSD from the accumulation of traumas that you respond to as a Dispatcher, Officer, or Supervisor. When PTSD symptoms occur do you know what happens to the body and how movement can help to heal symptoms associated with PTSD?
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Veteran's Administration (VA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have worked for decades to help decode the mysteries surrounding PTSD. The VA has been at the forefront of this research due to the number of veterans experiencing PTSD. Innovative treatments and therapies are key to managing the symptoms of PTSD.
A large body of research has found that exercise can help alleviate some symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be caused by a range of events, including witnessing, surviving, and responding to critical incidents. Many times, PTSD goes undiagnosed, and even when a diagnosis is provided, treatment options can be confusing or complicated.
What Happens in PTSD?
PTSD is a whole-system disorder. This means that while the mind is affected, there are also multiple physical manifestations. Symptoms of anxiety, depression, lack of focus, nightmares and even flashbacks can result. Many individuals who experience PTSD related symptoms self-report sleep disturbances, headaches, and bodily aches and pains; all which can make the activities of day-to-day life difficult.
As early as 2006, researchers at Emory University determined that traumatic stress impacts specific areas of the brain: prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. Scans of patients with PTSD reveal these physical changes. These areas of the brain are responsible for day to day activities such as decision making, impulse control, regulating emotions and learning and memory.
The physical and psychological components of PTSD are more than uncomfortable. Due to this, individuals may engage in unhealthy coping skills as a way to self-soothe. The first step in obtaining proper treatment for PTSD is getting a diagnosis from a qualified professional.
Start Moving to Start Healing
Modern neuroscience suggests that trauma physically impacts the brain and the body. In order to heal from PTSD, these traumas need to be released.
We talked about the physical changes that take place in the brain. Fortunately, our brains are resilient and movement can help increase this resiliency.
Researchers have found that movement can help in a number of ways. Sustained aerobic exercise has been shown to assist in neuroplasticity, which is the rebuilding of nerve cell connections in the brain. This helps repair both mental health and physical brain injuries.
Physical activity and movement additionally increase an individual's endorphin levels (the feel good hormones). Associated with the phrase "runner's high," a euphoric feeling is experienced during and after exercise, which often includes a masking of the pain associated with strenuous exercise. But it's not just endorphins.
There are numerous neurotransmitters that are called into action through exercise and movement. Some of these hormones help suppress physical pain, while others provide a calming effect to the mind. Movement such as yoga and stretching allow an individual to reconnect with their body, thus calming one's central nervous system and decreasing the uncomfortable symptoms associated with PTSD.
Bodywork, including myofascial release, is another option to release trauma from the body. The fascia (the thin tissue that surrounds one's organs, bones, blood vessels, etc.) is nerve-rich and can harbor tension and pain. Releasing the fascia can have profound effects on the body. Be sure to work with a skilled practitioner who can perform myofascial release and consult with your health care provider before beginning any exercise or treatment routine.
Looking to the Future
Mental health diagnoses and treatments have steadily evolved over the past few decades. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. Those who experience symptoms of PTSD often find relief through a combination of treatment options. According to the VA, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) are the most effective trauma-focused types of therapy. Adding physical exercise and movement can be another tool in recovery.
Due to their high-pressure occupations, members of the military, law enforcement and first responders, are at increased risk for stress and exposure to critical incidents that can result in acute stress and PTSD. If you have experienced a traumatic event, be sure to seek out a mental health professional who can help put you on the path to recovery.
Take care of yourself, each other, and your family,