The Simplest Scientifically-Proven Way of Overcoming PTSD (and Anxiety)
One of the most powerful tools in battling anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, drawn straight from science, is the knowledge of how trauma symptoms operate in our nervous system.
Here, in a two-part video, you’ll learn why PTSD develops, and how our bodies already have a built-in capacity to overcome it.
Posttraumatic stress disorder falls into 4 clusters of symptoms:
Reexperiencing (intrusion), which includes nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, and even body memories (physical feelings associated with past trauma that occur in the present.)
Hyperarousal, which includes intense anxiety and feeling chronically or intermittently “keyed up or on edge,” often presenting as irritability and/or strong startle responses or jumpiness.
Avoidance of thoughts feelings and reminders of the traumatic experience, which often includes emotional “numbing”
Changes in mood and thinking, especially feelings of depression and an impulse to isolate (this latter cluster, not mentioned in my video, has only recently been added in the DSM V) .
The key to reducing any symptom of PTSD–or anxiety , itself, for that matter–is to remember the lesson from over half a century of research: *you can’t be relaxed and anxious at the same time* The fancy name for this well established phenomenon is “reciprocal inhibition.”
For some time now, we’ve known that there are two sides to the nervous system: the sympathetic (flight or flight) and parasympathetic (relaxation response). When one side of the nervous system switches on, the other begins switching off (or more accurately, as one becomes more active, the other becomes less active.)
This is far more than a fun research fact There’s tremendous power in this knowledge because *all the symptoms of PTSD ride on top of a fight or flight state.* All of them.
Without the sympathetic nervous system in full drive, we can’t have intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, jumpiness, or avoidance (which is s way of reducing anxiety in the short term). We have no need to isolate or shut down. We’re less likely to fly off the handle. Not because we’ve convinced ourselves we’re safe, but because our nervous system is no longer acting as though we’re always in a life and death situation.
In other words, the push-pull of these two sides of our nervous system means we have the capacity to self-manage trauma and anxiety symptoms; the more time we spend practicing known methods of activating a parasympathetic reaction–mediation, progressive muscle relaxation. yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, aerobic exercise (which trigger a calmness afterwards)–the more trauma symptoms begin to lose their hold on us. We remember the feeling of peace, more and more–and so does our nervous system. I call this lowering your idle.
Picture the idle on a car. It can be set higher or lower, depending on how the engine is tuned. If it starts lower, it can’t redline (over rev or overheat) as easily or quickly.
The same is true of our nervous system. Greater familiarity with (and time in) a parasympathetic state makes us less likely to “red line” (experience fight or flight spikes) because our sympathetic nervous system arousal is already at a lower state. And that means fewer trauma symptoms.
In the next video, I’ll share a simple, research proven technique that you can practice to lower your idle.
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