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The Science of Trauma: The Neurobiology of PTSD

A young woman struggles to fall asleep due to nightmares and panic attacks caused by PTSD.
Significant trauma can result in a diagnosis of PTSD, but there is help available.

Your brain is like the man behind the curtain, controlling your breathing, movements, thoughts and emotions. It contains billions of neurons, compartmentalized into different sections like a complex filing system, shaping who you are as a person. This is why, when your brain isn’t working as it should, you don’t feel like yourself.

When you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, it can create a feeling of isolation. However, nothing could be further from the truth. An estimated 6.8 percent of people across the US will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime, so you’re not alone. Learning the neurobiology of PTSD offers you greater understanding of how traumatic moments affect your brain and help you seek solutions for long-lasting recovery.

What Does PTSD do to the Brain?

PTSD and the Brain

When you experience a stressful situation, your brain alerts the rest of your body to go into survival mode long enough for you to get out of that setting. On the other hand, PTSD sends your brain into overdrive where it can no longer differentiate between safe conditions and dangerous scenarios.

Your amygdala controls the alerts to your body that are triggered by stress. This is the part of the brain that works overtime when affected by PTSD. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of your brain that aids emotional response regulation from alerts by the amygdala. PTSD ultimately limits the effectiveness of the prefrontal cortex in making decisions. When you combine an overactive amygdala with an underactive prefrontal cortex, those suffering from PTSD confuse normal situations and stimuli with their original trauma based on memories saved in the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain.

If these changes to the brain go unaddressed and the PTSD isn’t treated, you could experience physical ailments. These can include chronic musculoskeletal pain, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The Symptoms of Trauma

PTSD stems from psychological trauma after witnessing a distressing or life-threating event. You may experience fear or helplessness, resulting in permanent psychological damage. This can lead to cognitive, behavioral and emotional changes, making you not feel like yourself.

Psychological trauma is classified into three groups of symptoms:

  • Re-experience — You may relive moments of the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
  • Hyper-arousal — You may feel frequently on edge, experiencing insomnia, agitation, impulsivity, irritability and anger.
  • Avoidance — You may avoid social interactions and experience numbing, confusion, dissociation and depression.

PTSD Treatments

When your mind is constantly reminding you of past trauma, it can feel like your life will never be the way it was before. But there are short- and long-term treatments that can help — typically a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Therapy can help to improve your symptoms, teach you how to manage them long-term and help you restore your confidence and comfort in the world around you.

Some common PTSD therapies include:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: This combines talk therapy with writing about your trauma.
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): Rather than talk about your trauma, EMDR therapy has you concentrate on a stimulus as you process traumatic events. Your therapist will gradually help you shift your thoughts to pleasant ones during EMDR sessions.
  • Stress Inoculation Training: This focuses on changing how you deal with the stress of the event rather than the event itself.

The right mental health treatment center can help you find the most effective PTSD treatments for you. At The Raleigh House, we offer a personalized approach designed for lasting recovery from PTSD.

Experience Hope and Healing from PTSD at The Raleigh House

At the Raleigh House, we know how difficult it can be to go through the experience of PTSD when others around you don’t understand. That’s why we offer an “east to west” approach to treatment that implements both evidence-based techniques and experiential therapies. With a combination of individual and group therapy, equine therapy and physical exercise, we can help you work through your trauma and regain confidence in yourself and the world around you.

There is hope for recovery and you can reclaim your health and well-being following a traumatic experience. Contact our admissions team at The Raleigh House today to learn how you can get started.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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