Post traumatic stress disorder can happen to anyone who has experienced a dangerous, shocking, or scary event. The person can feel afraid and triggered by certain situations. In a split second, the person can enter the “flight or fight” mode. They feel they must protect themselves from harm.
Some people can naturally recover from trauma over time, but that is not true for everyone. A person with PTSD can feel that they are in danger, even when that is not the case.
Not all experiences are the same or can be compared to others because everyone internalizes experiences differently. Symptoms can occur about 3 months after an experience, but for some, they can happen years later. Some of the symptoms might include:
- Flashbacks: Reliving the trauma. This can cause the heart to race or sweating.
- Bad thoughts: Starting to think about frightening situations.
- Bad dreams: This can be nightmares.
A person’s thoughts or feelings can disrupt their daily life. In order for PTSD to be diagnosed, a person must have one of the following for at least one month:
- At least one avoidance symptom: Staying away from people and places.
- At least two re-experiencing symptoms: These are flashbacks of reliving the experience over again.
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms: These are negative thoughts, loss of interest, feeling guilty, or trouble remembering parts of the trauma.
- At least two reactive and arousal symptoms: Feeling on edge, feeling tense, angry outburst, or trouble sleeping.
Anyone can develop PTSD and the condition is found commonly among veterans, people who have experienced an assault or abuse, after an accident, or after a disaster. However, even losing a loved one unexpectedly can lead to PTSD.
The main type of treatment for PTSD is psychotherapy and/or the use of medications. Not every treatment works for everyone, as this is a very personalized condition. Antidepressants are the most common type of medication.
These can help with the looming sadness, feeling numb, or mood swings. Talk therapy is another method which might include exposure therapy which involves being able to face and control fear.
This entails visualizing, actually visiting, or even drawing out the site of the trauma. Imagery is key. Another type is cognitive restructuring. This involves trying to make sense of what happened. Some people feel the occurrence was their fault and need to work through guilt and shame.
Exercise can also be used to help the symptoms associated with PTSD especially those closely associated with depression and anxiety. Quality of life improves with regular exercise and it also improves self- worth. The release of positive endorphins can be healing.
Feeling empowered through physical activity can increase confidence. Some therapists consider this a natural remedy. When depression and anxiety strike, a person can feel stagnant or lack motivation.
Exercise provides a plan of attack and a purpose. Exercise is also energizing. Sometime certain medications can cause weight gain, so working out help ward of excess weight as much as possible. Working out also improves sleep.
Being part of group exercise can increase a sense of belonging and positivity. Teams sports are also a great way to feel encouraged and accountable to be active. Veterans who have been injured could work with a personal trainer or find themselves rehabilitating and improving these injuries through exercise.
Even activities such as yoga are beneficial for mind-body connection. Taking care of your physical health is just as important as your mental health and the two work together for your overall well-being.
However, exercise may not be the answer for everyone. Sometimes exercise induced effects such as increased heart rate or sweating can be triggers of PTSD because they are related to the event and how the person felt.
Being in a large gym setting around many people may not be the best environment. Walking or jogging alone might not be a good idea. However, there’s an appropriate modality for everyone to accommodate these needs. For someone who has felt a lack of control with their mental health, taking control of their physical health can be a great boost of inspiration and hope.
At the one month follow up, participants reported a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms including depression and anxiety. In another study by Powers et al. (2015), nine adults were assigned a 12-week exercise program prior to starting an exposure therapy program. The results showed that the group who exercised prior to therapy had a greater reduction in PTSD. Research therefore indicates exercise either with or without other forms of treatment can help reduce PTSD.
(Powers MB, Medina JL, Burns S, Kauffman BY, Monfils M, Asmundson GJ, et al. Exercise augmentation of exposure therapy for PTSD: rationale and pilot efficacy data. Cogn Behav Ther. (2015) 44:314–27. 10.1080/16506073.2015.1012740)
When a person experiences psychological trauma, their body responds. This could be in the form of having no energy, feeling lethargic, gaining weight, losing weight, and becoming more sedentary which causes many other health risks. When we get up and become active, the body recognizes this and suddenly awakens again.
Muscle memory has tremendous capability. Like anyone, the trouble is motivation can stand in the way. No workout is a bad workout and you always feel better after. There’s no magic fix to what your mind and body need, but healthy actions reciprocate a healthy mind and body. Even on a day when we feel sad, mad, or worried, exercise might just be the natural remedy (not a spoon full of sugar).
Many people are exposed to traumatic events. About 43% of young children are and of these 6% of boys and 15% of girls will develop PTSD. The prevalence of PTSD varies among military war by war. Those who have been abused or raped are at high risk.
The circumstances are unfortunate and should never be overlooked. PTSD doesn’t always happen right away. Facing fear is never easy, but there is help and support available. Don’t forget that movement is medicine too.