So last week, I was driving into work listening to my regular radio station, and guess who came on? …Dave Matthews Band, Crash. I love that song. Every time I listen to it, instantly I’m brought back to those high school years when it felt like I had my life ahead of me. My only interests were friends, love, and fun. It felt so good to drive in my car and hear that song. The human brain is so fascinating. It literally has the ability to take you back to a time when your life was good and make you feel as if that moment has never passed. After the song switched on the radio. I snapped out of my trance and started thinking about the downsides of the brain. It has the capability of reminding you of happy things. But, it also can easily remind you of the bad things, even the traumatic. For many people, this experience exists because of a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Many people are familiar with the symptoms of PTSD but don’t exactly why it occurs. If you know someone who has experienced a traumatic event, or you are that person who has been through trauma, it is important to know how that trauma and PTSD effects the brain.
Once a person experiences trauma, the brain’s structures and functions alter in numerous ways. Most importantly in three areas. These are the Hippocampus, Amygdala, and Prefrontal Cortex.
- Hippocampus – The hippocampus is responsible for storing memories and spacial recognition. This includes all past knowledge and experiences.It is also responsible for recalling memories. Within traumatized individuals, the recall is too fast and unspecific. Confusing past memories as present. As a result, the brain remains on high alert and begins to shrink due to excess stress hormones being released. However this is not necessarily permanent.
- Amygdala – The Amygdala is responsible for processing emotions. Just raw, emotions. When we are scared or stressed, the Amydala will release the stress hormones that are responsible for keeping a person on high alert.
- Prefrontal Cortex – The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for impulse control, problem solving and judgement. Its the rational part of the brain. When the brain is flooded with stress hormones, this area of the brain has trouble distinguished between what is real and what is not.
So when someone has PTSD, any sort of trigger will make the past become present. That person will not be able to process their emotions. They will experience symptoms such as flashbacks, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, difficulty holding onto relationships, etc.
Luckily, there are things that can help. Antidepressants are good to use along with therapy. A good therapist can help move those bad memories from your Hippocampus and help you regulate them. EMDR is a wonderful option for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When looking for the right therapist, make sure they have experience processing trauma and be compassionate to yourself and others who have experienced trauma.