PTSD Articles

5 Steps to Improve Sleep & Emotional Vulnerability

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

5 Steps to Improve Sleep & Emotional VulnerabilityMost of us don’t need science to tell us that sleep and emotion are closely linked.  Spend a couple nights with interrupted sleep or talk to any parent of a newborn and the connection is quite clear.

The connection appears not just in everyday life.  In certain physical and mental disorders sleep disturbance and emotion dysregulation are hallmark symptoms. Symptoms of one rare disorder, cataplexy, which often co-occurs with the sleep disorder, narcolepsy for example, include sudden muscle weakness when a person experiences strong emotion, such as anger or fear, or exhilaration.

Lack of adequate sleep also is commonly linked with emotional or psychological problems. Examples include depression and PTSD, while sleep disturbances combined with emotional reactivity are key dimensions of bipolar disorder.

And even when lack of sleep isn’t connected to rare disorders or affective psychological problems, it is linked to increased emotionality. 

I’m a Helicopter Parent: Have Trauma, Will Hover

Monday, July 15th, 2013

I'm a Helicopter Parent: Have Trauma, Will HoverParenting is hard. Single parenting is extremely difficult. Single parenting with family-based trauma is borderline impossible.

There are so many times I have wanted to stop a parenting moment in mid-stream, so I could research possible approaches on the Internet. I don’t know what I would have done without the countless books, articles and Google searches that have taught me how to be a parent.

I have come a long way in the past seven years. I’m much more patient. I am willing to apologize and admit when I am wrong (sometimes). I don’t spank. I yell significantly less. My children are not exposed to my dangerous biological family. They live a safe life.

So safe that it might be too safe.

Yes, I am one of those helicopter parents.

What are Some of the Physiological Manifestations of PTSD?

Friday, June 28th, 2013

What are Some of the Physiological Manifestations of PTSD?Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a result of severe trauma. The trauma experienced is usually one that has threatened a person’s safety. PTSD is seen in people returning from fighting in a war, or people who have been victims of violence or a natural disaster.

It’s normal to feel traumatized by significant life events such as surviving a severe car accident. It becomes pathological when the feelings of trauma, anxiety, panic, or sadness don’t fade with time. People who experience PTSD may feel like they are forever changed and suffer constant panic attacks, loss of sleep and social isolation.

Trauma and prolonged stress inevitably has a negative impact on overall health. PTSD has been linked to more physician visits in veteran populations.

Unraveling the Secrets of Our Mysterious Brain

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Unraveling the Secrets of Our Mysterious BrainThere are many big moments in scientific discovery. Humans have explored our world and learned incredible things. We’ve discovered a giant asteroid belt circling a star 25 light-years from earth. We determined that disease comes from microorganisms.

We’ve explored the structure of an atom. And we can see bones inside our bodies as well as bombs inside suitcases.

Yet the human brain still remains very much a mystery. Recent advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have led to great gains in our understanding of the brain and how it functions. 

But even so, scientists have not yet discovered all the types of cells that make up the brain and don’t yet know how they all function together.

Brain Chemistry Altered by Early Life Experience, Part 1

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Brain Chemistry Altered by Early Life Experience, Part 1There was a fascinating article that recently showed up on NBC on June 2.  It dealt with the overarching concept of resiliency possibly being rooted in childhood, and featured some survivor stories of recent tragedies of natural disasters.  It presented that some people did well; others less so.

The article nicely brought a mental health issue with the potential to affect us all one step closer to the general public.  As well, though, it pointed toward something fascinating — that in terms of causalities of mental health and illness, there is “nature and nurture” and then there is something else.

“Nature” widely has been understood to be our genetics;  “nurture” our early life experiences.  Human behavior has been catchphrased as shaped by these two for centuries.

But then there is brain chemistry.  The genetics category, you say?  Not so fast. Apparently it can be altered by early formative experience.

How Trauma Can Affect Your Body & Mind

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

How Trauma Can Affect Your Body & MindAs I write this, our thoughts are with those in Boston who were affected by the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

In my 20 years living in the Boston area, I cheered on the runners on many occasions and now, even from far way, these events feel close to home.

Experiencing trauma can have a dramatic effect on our bodies and our minds.  And although it’s a different experience to witness a trauma on television, it still can affect us.

When you perceive a threat, the body activates the stress response. The stress response occurs in both your body and brain.

The body’s response to acute stress is a preparation for emergency.  Adrenaline and other hormones are released.  The body shuts down processes associated with long-term care.  When under immediate threat, digestion, reproduction, cell repair and other body tasks related to long-term functioning are unimportant.

Top 10 Mental Health Apps

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Top 10 Mental Health Apps

With so many apps on the market, it’s hard to know which are useful.

Many are designed by software developers instead of psychologists, without scientific testing. They range from beneficial, to harmless but useless, to bordering on fraudulent.

The apps selected for this list make no hucksterish claims and are based on established treatments. Progressive Muscle Relaxation, for example, has been used for a century and is likely just as effective in this new medium. Knowledge from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy enrich two apps on this list. Others mix solid information with ingenuity.

Understanding the Alarming Rate of Suicide Among Soldiers

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Understanding the Alarming Rate of Suicide Among SoldiersA report released by the Pentagon earlier this year revealed a disturbing statistic:  A soldier is more likely to die from suicide than war injuries.

Among active troops, suicide rates increased 18 percent from last year.  Rates among veterans were also at distressing levels, with a veteran dying by suicide every 80 minutes, according to an estimate from the Department of Veterans Affairs and reported in this month’s Monitor on Psychology.

When faced with a problem of these proportions, it is vital to understand what factors increase the likelihood of suicide and which interventions are the most effective.

In response, the Army has prepared training for soldiers and families — to help them recognize signs of suicidal behavior, and to inform them of interventions and ways to access support. And this past August, President Obama signed an executive order that strengthened suicide prevention efforts for service members and veterans.

Can We Learn from the Boy Scouts’ Perversion Files?

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Can We Learn from the Boy Scouts Perversion Files?Last week the Boy Scouts of America released their records detailing the history of sex abuse in the group.  They titled these files the “perversion files.”  The purpose of the files, kept since at least 1919, was to keep a record of pedophiles to ensure they did not re-enter the organization.

However, they show that some abusers slipped through the cracks, others were given a second chance and include evidence of some failures to take proper steps to report suspected abuse to authorities.

The Boy Scouts have issued an acknowledgement that in some incidents their response was “insufficient, inappropriate and wrong” and have apologized for their mishandling of certain situations.

And let’s not forget that generations of boys have had healthy, positive, life-affirming experiences with the Boy Scouts.  This current report, which involves a small fraction of the millions of volunteers over the years, should not discount the positive aspects of the organization, the skills it has taught and positive values it has instilled in many boys

At the same time, are there lessons to be learned from the report?

Depression? There’s an App for That

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Depression? There's an App for ThatJane McGonigal is a world-renowned game developer. She’s dedicated her career to the creation of intricate imaginary worlds and fiercely promotes the power of play. McGonigal encourages daily gaming. She believes that a quick dose of Angry Birds or hours spent plowing the virtual fields of FarmVille is not only relaxing but is actually beneficial to your health.

So beneficial, in fact, that gaming may add up to 10 years to your life.

In her groundbreaking TED Talk, McGonigal presents the research behind her theory.

A Guilt Out of Ignorance

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

A Guilt Out of Ignorance“Just shut up, you epileptic man. You are the cause for my father’s suffering and poverty. In fact, you are the cause for all of us to suffer. You just need to die and leave us in peace. You’re suffering us. Look at me, I can’t even play football with my friends because they think I will give them epilepsy. You are a curse.”

This is my own voice almost eighteen years ago. In 1994, I subjected my late epileptic uncle to inhuman treatment and suffering.

Nearly two decades later, this voice continues to reverberate in my mind and ears. It haunts me like a ghost since I last attended a workshop on mental health and mental illness conducted by the Carter Center and the Ministry of Health & Social Wealth in Monrovia, Liberia.

Epilepsy, I learned, is not a mental illness. However, it is included and discussed as such because it is a brain sickness.

I was born to see my late uncle suffer from epilepsy. Matter of fact, the illness treated him very badly — so badly that I hated him for it.

I meted out the most severe treatment against him because of his condition. Among other things, I ‘drowned’ his head in a calabash of unfiltered water; I even publicly humiliated him. Evidently, whenever I chained him besides a fire or ‘drowned’ him in the water, he became violent. This violent response I understood as a lesson for him to steer clear of me and a motivation within him to want to die earlier to end his suffering at my hands.

Diagnosis Day, Part One: A Lesson in Gratitude

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Diagnosis Day, Part One:  A Lesson in GratitudeNo one wants to be told he or she has cancer.  The initial lack of control and feelings of helplessness are often traumatic experiences. The usual reactions are anger, depression and terror-laced anxiety.

While survival rates for many cancers have improved, there are quality of life issues following the diagnosis, including the emotional difficulty of coping with the anniversary date.  Survival rates are measured in 1-, 5- and 10-year markers.  This often creates an emotional conflict as the diagnosis date approaches.  Each year provides a measure both of success and trepidation.  Diagnosis day is when the war on cancer begins in your body.  It is sometimes shortened to military lingo for the day an attack or operation is launched: D-Day.

As with most traumas, people can tell you the vivid details of their diagnosis. They remember the time, what was said, what they did, and what they felt.  D-day is etched in their psyche, and as the anniversary date approaches, so does the anxiety.

But one woman, Jen Cunningham Butler, has done something different. In honor of breast cancer awareness month I wanted to tell you her story.

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