Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is much in the news lately. The Sunday Times had an article May 30, 2021 ‘How do you know if you’re suffering from PTSD?, A serious condition risks being over diagnosed’. The article makes many good points but mainly that stress is not PTSD. Few people have PTSD, but everyone has stress, tension, anxiety. Perhaps especially now since covid entered our lives.
Stress can be horrible to experience and it can seriously damage health. When one is in the grip of extreme fear, like a panic attack, the heart is racing, breathing is fast and shallow, blood pressure is high, digestion stops, adrenalin and cortisol flood the system. Many people live their lives in milder versions of this, always ready to run for their lives, fight to defend themselves or even play dead. It really is not good for us.
A couple of weeks ago, Amal Rajan, a new presenter on the Radio 4 Today Show, had a feature about himself and the panic attack and sleepless night he had endured before his first morning. He wasn’t saying he had PTSD, but he was clearly very stressed about starting a new job. He was in conversation with a former fireman, now a psychotherapist, who had left the fire service because of repeated panic attacks. Amal Rajan talked about the many panic attacks his claustrophobia had caused him. A psychologist and academic came on the program to discuss the issue. She said an interesting thing. That in a panic attack it is all in the body, the brain is not involved.
In a panic attack, people feel they are dying because they can’t breathe, and often end up in A and E believing they are having a heart attack. But the only thing wrong with a person in this state, is fear. We don’t decide to be afraid. The autonomic nervous system, below consciousness, triggers fear and the body takes action to fight, flee or freeze.
The body never forgets negative experiences, even if the mind has. And the nervous system gets confused sometimes and signals danger when there isn’t any. Hence, a panic attack when there is no real danger. Or one is on high alert much of the time with the damaging adrenalin and cortisol coursing through the body.
Trauma/Tension Release Exercise is a system which helps the body release the tension which remains from stressful experiences; it calms, soothes and rebalances the nervous system. And TRE works below consciousness just as fear does.