As you may recall, the emotional brain communicates with the body by releasing stress hormones and other messengers that produce visceral sensations in the body. You might be wondering what are these visceral sensations? Visceral sensations are those shock waves you feel throughout your body when something fearful or threatening occurs. For instance driving in your car and the person in front of you slams on his or her brakes. Your body is rushed with these intense sensations that surge through your body rapidly in order to get you to react.
Usually these stress hormones dissipate to their normal state relatively quickly. In individuals with PTSD, however, researchers have found they secrete stress hormones on a continuous basis long after the actual danger has passed. The balancing system fails and they get stuck with their fight/flight/freeze chemicals continuing to release. Further, since the stress hormones do not dissipate completely, they spike more rapidly and disproportionately in response to less stressful situations. The effects of this constant elevation of stress hormones can lead to problems with memory, attention, irritability, and sleep. It can also lead to long term health issues.
This is major stuff. The effects of these stress hormones are profound. How people react to this constant release of stress hormones can go one of two ways. The first way is they become extremely jumpy, react quickly, and intensely, and over time, start avoiding a lot of situations over fear of being triggered. The other way people react is that they cut themselves off from their emotions and the visceral sensations. They ignore and push it away so much that they stop feeling emotions all together. Both avenues are devastating. I will go more into the two main ways that I have seen people react and what that looks like in my next two posts. For now, cosy up, breathe, and take care of yourself. With great care and compassion… Until next time.- Dr. B
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