PTSD’s long-term impact on mental health

8 mins read

With June being PTSD Awareness Month and June 27th marking National PTSD Awareness Day, now is a crucial time to bring awareness to this complex disorder… to encourage conversations on the topic and to encourage our leaders to find healthy solutions and offer support to those struggling with it every day. 

Dr. Teralyn Sell, Psychotherapist and brain health expert, touches on the impact that PTSD has on one’s long-term mental health and how loved ones and colleagues can support those struggling with it. “PTSD’s impact on mental health still hasn’t hit mainstream understanding.” says Dr. Sell. “However, as we learn more about symptomology we begin to see a few more common signs that someone may be impacted by a traumatic experience such as depression and anxiety, problems sleeping, being triggered by a smell, sound or memory, disinterest in things that used to bring joy, being withdrawn, negativity, irritability, risky behavior and addictions to name a few.” 

Here are some common symptoms of PTSD that we should all be aware of: 

Symptom #1: Sensory Triggers 

Your senses do a great job of alerting us to danger. For instance, we smell milk to see if it is spoiled and recoil if it smells off. Often a trauma event is linked to a particular smell. A common smell is that of gunfire. However, a pneumatic nail gun also smells like gunfire. This could trigger a flashback or a body sensation of tenseness or anxiety. 

Other things like perfumes or deodorants can do the same thing. The limbic system (emotional center) of the brain is triggered by smell and induces positive and negative memories. Instead, grab an essential oil that is grounding such as lavender or chamomile. It will trigger a relaxation response when you are triggered by smell. 

Symptom #2: Hypervigilance 

Hypervigilance is a state of alertness. If you find yourself tense in public, scanning your surroundings for threats or exits you might be experiencing hypervigilance. Avoiding people and places can also be a sign of hypervigilance. Notice what your body is telling you, do you tense up in public, does your heart race or do your hands get sweaty? This could be a hypervigilant response to your environment. 

Instead, engage in some guided positive relaxation prior to going out into public. You can easily include some yoga stretches to help impact your vagus nerve (nervous system superhighway) and head out of the home in a more relaxed state to begin with. If you find yourself becoming hypervigilant using long exhaled breathing and positive mantras to help you out. 

Symptom #3: Sleep Trouble 

Having problems sleeping is a hallmark of PTSD. Sometimes, you can’t turn your brain off to fall asleep, or you wake up from a nightmare or in a state of panic. There is a lot of emerging research that suggests cortisol levels may be to blame for these kinds of symptoms. Cortisol (stress hormone) doesn’t allow our bodies to fall asleep. Cortisol is trying to find the threat, even at night. 

Additionally, our minds are trying to process events and emotions during the night which can account for the nightmares. Try doing some breathing exercises before bed or when you wake up. Your heart is tied directly to your breath. If your heart is beating more than 100BPMs it will kick in adrenaline and cortisol and then you are in fight or flight mode before bed, sleep is elusive at that point. Instead, turn down your heart rate by using long, slow exhales (exhaling slows down your heart rate) for about 10 minutes. 

Here are 3 tips on managing PTSD and how loved ones can support someone struggling with it: 

Tip #1: Seek Appropriate Trauma Counseling 

Let’s face it, not all therapists are skilled in trauma work. So, it is important to dig a little deeper into your selection of a therapist that is skilled in trauma work. There are several types of evidenced-based trauma treatment available so make sure you ask the therapist ‘what type of trauma therapy are you trained in and skilled in?’. Go ahead and ask the therapist if they have had any supervision for their trauma therapy skill set. Ask them how long the training was and did they do all parts of the training or only some. You would be surprised to learn that not all therapists have done full training with supervision components for trauma therapy. 

Tip #2: Keep Your Thinking Brain Online All Day 

There are many ways you can work on reducing stress response and dialing down your nervous system. One easy way to keep your thinking brain online is to keep cortisol levels in check. Make sure to eat protein every 2 hours. This will not only stabilize your blood sugar but will also fuel your brain’s neurotransmitters. Stable blood sugar will keep your fight or flight in check and not trigger adrenaline or cortisol. 

Tip #3: Validate Your Loved One’s Emotions 

If you support your loved one who has been through trauma, it’s important to validate their lived experience and emotions around that experience. Instead of telling that person to ‘get over it’ or engaging in argumentative behavior about it, take a step back and ask the person how you can assist them. Better yet, reflect on how the person is feeling and support their emotional expression. Encouraging them to seek help in such a way that is supportive, not punitive, and certainly not during an argument. 

Dr. Teralyn holds a PhD in Psychology and Master’s degree in Psychology. She is not a medical doctor. Information found on this website is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure disease or replace your relationships with medical or psychological professionals. In addition to being a Lifestyle Coach and a Licensed Therapist, she is an author of the book “Kick Off Your Damn Heels!” How to Quit Anxiety and Live a Badass Life. As the host of the edgy and inspiring national podcast series, Kick Off Your Damn Heels, Dr. Sells delivers real-life advice for anyone struggling with anxiety who wants holistic options. Source: https://drteralyn.com/ 

Exclusive content from CARE Magazine

Latest from Blog

LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

 Affordable housing still a dream for many  When it comes to giving thanks, many place safe…

LOWCOUNTRY LIFE

Mark Pritchard took this photo of three dolphins swimming in tight formation in Jenkins Creek from…