Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’


PTSD and the Holiday Season

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Here’s the sad truth. PTSD often worsens during the holiday season. One would hope it was different, that holiday cheer, food, friends and good spirit would pop up like champagne on one of those commercials we see on TV where people are toasting each other, smiling and all looking fit, young and strong. But alas, it is not and here are some reasons why:

1) Holidays come with lots of triggers. We can be around too many people or too few. Even if we want to be with people, loneliness can be enhanced by the inability to connect in the midst of deep emotions such as fear, grief, or rage. There is no lonely like the lonely that comes in the midst of a group of friends or family.

2) We tend to eat foods that aggravate our nervous system. PTSD causes an inflammatory reaction in the body (see my HPA Axis posts). When we pile on the sugar, alcohol, fatty foods and just plain junk that pervades holiday fare our delicate and taxed nervous system can come under a lot of strain. Eating aggravates our anxiety, and anxiety aggravates our eating, repeating until New Year’s Resolutions come.

3) Feelings of self-loathing tend to emerge more strongly in holiday season. Perhaps we are trying to live up to an unattainable ideal of our religious faith or maybe proximity to family reminds us of our (and their) shortcomings. Whatever the reason, the phenomenon is real.

4) There is a lot of stimuli in the environment! Bright lights, flashing lights, loud music, smells, endless holiday music, crowded shopping environments all add to the load on the nervous system. Not to mention traveling on overcrowded airplanes and roads in dangerous weather. Not exactly a good environment for the hypervigilant and stressed.

If you think avoiding the holidays is easy, just watch the hilarious movie, Christmas with the Kranks. A lucky few might escape to Hawaii or a cruise but even then the holidays follow and are on our mind (if not our neighbors).

So, what to do? If you see a therapist and can afford it, scheduling extra sessions can be helpful. For those of us not lucky enough to have that resource, protection from the holiday barrage starts with our own awareness.

Pace yourself. Take some time every day to see what it is you do and don’t want to do. Say ‘no’ as often as you must. Stop worrying about hurting other people’s feelings, and focus on healing your own. Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. For it will.

Better yet, dig down in yourself to find your own meaning of the holiday – whether it is about religion, vacation, or promoting your business, find the meaning that will be best for you.

Move into alignment with the season. In Chinese philosophy, winter is a time to move inside, to become dormant like the plants outside, resting so that our roots will be nourished and the plant flourish in the Spring. This is my favorite meaning of the winter holidays: renewal, self-nourishment, quiet companionship with those you love, sleep. Lots of sleep. 

So here is my wish for you in the holiday and end of year time: Know when you are triggered and move to take care of yourself as needed. Cultivate compassion in your heart for yourself and others. Rest. Eat well. (And read The Trauma Tool Kit as needed.)

Happy Holidays. 




INSOMNIA!

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Insomnia and PTSD go together like a mosquito bite and itching but with far worse results. Insomnia is not only a consequence of traumatic events but, left untreated, can result in such chronic medical conditions as mood disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even fibromyalgia, a painful condition affecting joints and tissues throughout the body.

There are roughly 4 types of insomnia:

1) Early awakening
2) Inability to fall asleep
3) Repetitive waking throughout the sleep cycle (usually every 90 min)
4) Unsatisfactory sleep

There can be other physical or disease processes that interfere with sleep so the first step with insomnia is to get a medical exam to determine if there are any conditions, such as sleep apnea (poor breathing during sleep) that are resulting in awakening or unsatisfactory sleep (waking up tired).

With PTSD the two most common types of sleep disorder I’ve seen are the inability to fall asleep or waking approximately every 90 minutes. These are so common that if I have a patient walk in with those symptoms there is a high likelihood that they have suffered past traumatic events.

Why?

The answer is simple. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep occurs approximately every 90 minutes. In this stage of sleep the brain processes memories and emotions. That is what the brain is hardwired to do and why people normally wake up feeling refreshed.

But if the memories are too scary and overwhelming or if the conscious mind is not ready to assimilate the information a person will shut down the REM process by popping prematurely out of sleep. Similarly with sleep inhibition or the inability to fall asleep, the mind is unconsciously resisting the process of assimilation or digestion of overwhelming experiences.

For these reasons, sleep can start to feel like a very overwhelming experience and can snowball into its own traumatic situation. Insomnia breeds its own special kind of anxiety. A secondary trauma develops: the fear of not being able to sleep.

What to do?

Here are three steps to getting back to a restful night even while healing from trauma:

1) Unwind the fear about falling asleep. If you are awake use your time productively. Do some yoga postures and relaxation exercises. Or read something that is “good for you” like history, medical information or a religious text. The mind wants to shut down out of boredom after a while, just like in school. Do not read Stephen King or the latest murder mystery! Tell yourself that you will not be awake forever and allow yourself to be awake if you need to be. You can always nap tomorrow. The more anxious you are about being anxious the less chance sleep will come.

2) Develop excellent sleep hygiene. Sleep in a dark room without computers, tv’s etc. Turn off bright lights at least 2 hours before bed (yes that includes all media screens). Abstain from caffeine and sugar for 6 hours before bed. Develop a routine. Etc.

3) Most important: Start addressing your traumas! Your unconscious mind wants you to heal and will keep throwing up traumatic dreams and memories until you get the point and deal with them. Seriously. The best cure for insomnia is curing your PTSD. Find a great counselor or program and get to work! 

The alternatives to not addressing insomnia are unbearable. Pills only work for so long. If you resolve the underlying issues be they physical or psychological you will be well on your road to healing and back to the land of Bedfordshire in no time.

Sweet dreams.




KBOO Interview on Recovery Zone

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I was fortunate to have Stephanie Potter of KBOO’s show Recovery Zone, in Portland, Oregon interview me yesterday about healing from stress and PTSD. The show is 30 minutes long and features three different callers with excellent questions. I had a blast doing it and am thankful for a chance to help people go deeper in their healing process. Click here, for a link to the downloadable interview.




Core Beliefs and PTSD

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Last week my sweet kittie went missing. After a few very sad and anxious days, I realized that this event tapped into an outmoded deeply held belief that I did not realize I was holding. That belief is:

If I love something or someone too much, they will abandon or abuse me.

Sound familiar? It should. It is one of the most common beliefs of people raised in traumatic environments.

We all have core beliefs, about ourselves, about life, about love, about why we are suffering. These beliefs largely lay unconscious in our psyche, like a filter that colors everything we see. We don’t question these core beliefs because we do not know they are there!

People who live with PTSD have core beliefs that arise out of their traumas (and sometimes precede them). We do not choose these beliefs. In a sense they choose us. The purpose of mind, evolutionarily speaking, is to make sense out of a random set of stimuli, the environment we live in. Without mind, the world would be an inchoate mass of incoming information. Mind sorts, slots, and makes meaning of sensory input.

But it is also largely automatic and unconscious.

Our mind selects meaning similar to other messages we have been given by our families, our schools, our communities, our religions etc. Most of the time we are completely unaware of this process, just as you are unaware of your breathing right now. Think you’re aware? How many breaths have you taken in the last hour?
Right! Same with the mind. Our minds think and make meaning but we are largely unaware of the process.

So what does that mean for the person with PTSD? Well, traumatic stress ups the ante on thoughts. Our thoughts tend to be more highly charged, faster, more automatic and more intense when we are stressed. Sometimes they are helpful and help us survive. Other times not so much.

This thought that came to me: If I love something or someone too much, they will abandon or abuse me, it could have first arisen in my childhood, or maybe several lifetimes ago. But it has persisted, lurking in my mind like a malignant dustbunny. Once I became aware of the thought, I felt my body start to release. These thoughts, like shadows, melt away in the light of awareness. Do I still feel sad she is gone? Yes. But I no longer suffer from the underlying guilt and anxiety that went along with my unexamined core belief, which puts me in a much more functional position!

Now it’s your turn. What core beliefs do you have that may be holding you back from healing yourself?




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