Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is now a pretty well-known diagnosis.

It has been in the news due to recent wars and has been brought into the spotlight. However, you’re not getting all of the information. While PTSD, or any trauma, does affect one and manifest mentally, I feel that it doesn’t merit the stigma that comes with that diagnosis. It’s not a permanent diagnosis. When one has, say, Bipolar Disorder, that’s a lifelong diagnosis. It’s a biochemical imbalance that stays. PTSD is an anxiety disorder due to trauma but it’s curable, and it doesn’t have to be permanent. I work with trauma and PTS in military, first responders, and civilians.

I’m going to tell you what I tell them: This is your body doing what it is supposed to do. It is a physical problem. You just got stuck.

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I posit that this is a physical problem that manifests with psychological symptoms. Honestly, a lot of the symptoms aren’t psychological, but we place them in that category: sleep difficulties, tension in the muscles, startle response, increased agitation- all of these happen due to increases in the levels of stress hormones. This is normal after a trauma, but it is not normal as a baseline for your body. Your body is sending physical signals to its systems that you are in danger and need protection. This is not all in your head.

So what does that mean for you? It means that there should be no more shame in this than a broken arm. It also means that we are treating this wrong if we do not address the physical aspect of this.

Let’s talk about what trauma does to the body and why it matters.

When one is in the middle of a traumatic situation, several things happen. The body sends out stress signals in the form of hormones or neurotransmitters. These tell the brain what the body needs to do to survive the situation. What happens, in the short form, is that the stimulus (whatever freaks you out) triggers the “fight or flight” parts of the brain. The brain sends a signal that you are in danger. This triggers the Amygdala which tells you that “Oh, hell, I’m in trouble! GET OUT!”

[Side Note: Deer are pure Amygdala. If you’ve ever seen them scatter, then you’ve seen the Amygdala at work.]

At that point, the Adrenal system is activated. The Adrenal system releases Adrenaline, Noradrenaline, and Cortisol. The adrenaline makes your heart race, your lungs breathe shallow, and blood moves to core parts of the body in preparation for flight. The Noradrenaline, which works to give you the energy to flee. Finally, the Cortisol is released – and this is the big one. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is responsible for so much:  appetite, sleep, heart rate, etc. It maintains the body’s homeostasis, literally “keeping stable” in Latin. THIS is the guy that messes things up when you get “stuck” here, among numerous other hormones and neurotransmitters.

Essentially, something triggers you, you send out distress signals, and the body prepares to get out of danger. This is a normal and appropriate response to danger. It only becomes an inappropriate response when you get stuck here. Your body gets stuck doing what it’s supposed to do.

PTSD happens when your body gets stuck in a state of danger.

It is a disorder of the endocrine system. And you can heal. The best form of healing is one that attempts to bring down the physical distress symptoms to set you up for success, in conjunction with giving you the proper tools to heal emotionally and learn to appropriately handle the mental aspects of this problem. It can be challenging to navigate this problem alone. I encourage you to realize that this is nothing to be ashamed of and to seek help.

Catherine is a Licensed Counselor in Arlington, Texas. She likes to say that counseling chose her and that she went to school to get certified for what she was doing already. Catherine graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Psychology and went on to get her Masters in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University. After school, she moved on to work for the United States Army doing Traumatic Brain Injury and Line of Duty evaluations, crisis interventions for soldiers under stress, and military inpatient care. She has since worked in multiple settings and has recently moved to open her private practice. The daughter of a physician and a nurse, she comes at things from a psychobiological perspective, believing that the mind and body are intimately connected and that the physical aspects of stress need to be addressed in conjunction with psychological care to get the best results. She is passionately involved in educating about her specialties of Post-Traumatic Stress, Trauma and its effect on the mind and body, and military issues. She enjoys reading and learning, cross stitching snarky things, caring for her Pet Python, and being outside. You can learn more about Catherine and her work on her website.