"Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about"
There are so many ways that people experience trauma, but one thing is pretty universal-how our brains process it. In my last article, Warriors, I described the research based program I trained under called Warriors At Ease. They focus on training teachers in trauma sensitive yoga practices-especially for veterans and first responders. It has always been surprising to me how many people struggle with past trauma, and it's what has shown me the importance of being sensitive to that in my classes. You really just don't know what the person next to you has experienced and is carrying around. Maybe everyone really is just doing their best.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is something that can occur after a traumatic event & sadly keeps the event on replay in the mind and body of the person affected. It could be brought on by a violent event, combat, an assault, car accident, natural disaster, or many other events. While many people might experience the same trauma, it doesn't always lead to developing PTSD. For those who do, it can be debilitating, with recurring thoughts and feelings, difficulty sleeping or staying asleep because of nightmares, get startled easily, or feel numb and "check out". Thanks to neuroimaging technology, we can actually see the areas that are affected the most by stress and trauma in the brain. I'm going to share a bit about the three main areas affected because I think that if we understood the why a little more, then we could better figure out what we need to help ourselves, or maybe someone else in our lives.
The three areas of Stress in the brain
She's your BFF when she's working correctly, and she's your worst nightmare when she's overreacting. That's exactly what happens when you're exposed to too much stress over too long a period-or if you've experienced trauma in a big way, and you feel like you can't let it go. Your amygdala is responsible for triggering your alarm center to help you recognize when it's time to get out of a dangerous situation. But if you keep having stressful things happen to you, and your alarms start going off for reasons not related to the initial trauma anymore? Then you know something is up. In people who have developed PTSD, the amygdala has most likely grown in size, taking over the other functions, causing you to become hyper-vigilant, always feeling that a dangerous situation is right around the corner.
The Prefrontal Cortex
In all of the areas, evoking the relaxation response is the key to allowing the parts of the brain to go back to a porportionate size, and function. Yoga and meditation are ways to bring about that response and are proven to create positive changes in the brain, easing the symptoms of PTSD.