MANAGING STRESS IN OUR LIVES

Entries in PTSD (7)

Monday
Jul172017

ARE WE FREE TO VIOLATE OTHERS WITH OUR SPEECH?

The first amendment to our constitution prohibits the making of any law abridging the freedom of speech.  The supreme court has clarified the extent of the protection for free speech.  This applies only to speech against the government and more recently has been broadened to allow for more political dissent.  Of significance lately is concern about protests on college campuses that are against certain speakers that the students disagree with.  This has involved violence at times.  The concern is that the stuent protests will have the impact of supressing free speech. This then has led to concern about any effort to restrict speech such as those who are spreading hate comments on the internet and those who bully others on the internet via social media. There has been increasing concern expressed about bullying as it is connected to increased risk of suicide [many studies indicate an increased risk for suicide in children and adolescents who are being bullied although it is difficult to be precise about the impact of bullying on suicides].  So is it free speech vs increased risk of suicide?  Or is it free speech vs chronic stress traumatizing our brain cells that can lead to cell death. [This will be clarified below.]

Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, wrote an opinion piece in the July 16, 2017 edition of the New York Times, entitled: "When is Speech Violence?' She makes the point that some speech is abusive while other speech is offensive but not abusive.  She considers bullying to be abusive as well as when people trade insults with each other over and over. Dr. Barrett considers prejudiced and judgmental views to be offensive but not abusive as these views do not create a prolonged stress for people and therefore do not trigger brain reactions that can be destructive.  It is like the difference between acute, temporary stress where the brain copes without leading to any damage to the brain.  On the other hand, abusive stresses lead to prolonged stress in people who are traumatized by these speech patterns and this leads to challenges to their immune systems that can compromise their DNA and even lead to neuron [brain cell] death. This repetitive abusive speech can lead to someone developing a post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. They often cope by blaming themselves and trying to keep things from getting worse. This on going stress reaction damages their immune systems. In addition, since they feel hopeless and like they have no control over their lives, they are at risk for suicidal behavior.

So, some speech is violent in the way other people respond to it. The abusive nature of the speech seems connected to it being repetitive and ongoing even if intermittant. So, free speech would not seem to include this type of speech.  What do you think?

Friday
Mar032017

WHEN ARE PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS SIGNS OF ANXIETY?

It is clear that stress can lead to many types of physical symptoms. It seems that some of the physical symptoms we have are related to past physical symptoms we had that did not appear to be caused by stress. I wonder if the brain thinks that a new situation that we react to in a similar way as our reaction to the original physical symptom, requires the same type of symptom to help us to cope. This may be what happens when people have "pseudoseizures" as these look like actual seizures but there is no evidence of electrical disturbances in the brain that characterize actual seizures.  On the other hand, there is a strong correlation between pseudoseizures and actual seizures as if the actual seizures may have been the model for the pseudoseizures. Then there are physical symptoms that seem related to the impact of chronic stress.  Dr. Sapolsky at Stanford University, in a lecture series from "The Great Courses" entitled "Stress and Your Body," reports that chronic stress can lead to chest pain [heart muscle lack of oxygen], headaches from high blood pressure, obesity, abdominal pain or bloating, acid reflux, difficulty getting pregnant, increased miscarriages, low libido, etc. Some of these symptoms may be caused by actual neuronal cell death that is caused by the repeated stress reactions.

Importantly, even intermittant but repeated experiences of stress can lead to the same type of symptoms. This intermittant stress may represent what happens with PTSD, when past stresses are repeatedly recalled. It takes our brains longer and longer to recover from our brain's response to stress, thus becoming like a constant stress reaction. Apparently our lives are not supposed to be made up of frequent stresses, as our brains have trouble managing these. 

There are a number of physical symptoms related to stress that are familiar to us from our own experiences.  These include: gatrointestinal [GI] symptoms such as pain, cramping and diarrhea; neck pain and pain in the occipital [back of the head] area of the head; and pain in muscles as stress can cause us to tense muscles for extended periods. Stress can also lead to changes in women's menstrual cycles including stopping them. 

I wonder if these physical symptoms are ways that our brain's are helping us cope with the stress even if these symptoms are uncomfortable. What do you think?


Monday
Dec192016

"I DON'T CARE AND I DON'T CARE THAT I DON'T CARE."

Recently one of my patients came in and announced that "I don't care and I don't care that I don't care."  She said that she realized this just the day before.  She reflected on this and indicated that it was a relief not to care.  She feels less stressed and yet still feels responsible for others and realizes that she takes care of others better than she takes care of herself.  She believes that "not caring" is helping her to feel less stress and take better care of herself.  

So, what is this "not caring?"  I am treating this person for severe PTSD symptoms that include paranoid thinking, frequent flashbacks and dissociative symptoms.  One of the treatment goals has been to not feel a need to react to the past and also to no longer fear past traumatic experiences, recognizing that they have no power anymore. The growing success not reacting to the past seems to have led to being able to "not care" about things from the past, and "not care" about things that are happening now or that might happen in the future.  It is like a weight has been lifted as worries about the past and fears about the future have lessoned. There is a calm more of the time now and it is easier to be around people. A feeling of responsibility for others is still a problem but is also more contained than before. It is also easier to focus on self care.

My wish for the universe is that all living things can learn to "not care" what happens, so that they can experience the joys of living, without being distracted by "caring."

Confusing? Imagine that you don't care and don't care that you don't care, and see what happens.  

Monday
Jul042016

TO KEEP THINGS FROM GETTING WORSE

My patients have made it clear to me how important their feeling responsible for others is in maintaining PTSD symptoms. It seems that taking responsibility for others develops as a way of coping with abuse.  It makes sense in that people who are being abused are not being protected by adults around them and therefore they can feel more in control by taking on responsibility for others.  However, I have wondered what the nature of the control experience is.  Now I believe that it is to prevent things from getting worse. This idea has surfaced with many of my patients who come to me for help with PTSD. They believe that the abusing person will be less likely to lose control if they do this. They also do not feel confident enough to resist taking responsibility for others and standing on their own. Any person who loses control, or threatens to, can cause someone who has PTSD to respond by feeling responsible for them. This maintains the old pattern and as I have previously discussed the brain is very good at helping us to maintain old patterns of behavior.

The significance of feeling responsible for others is that when we act this way because of a fear that things will get worse tells our brains that we need to be on guard to be alert in case the something worse happens.  For this reason it is very important for people with PTSD to have a goal of no longer doing things to keep things from getting worse.  They need to be able to identify all the ways that they act this way and make it clear to themselves [their brains] that they want to stop doing this.  It also helps to be able to tell themselves that they no longer need to fear past stressful situations as they do not have any power over them now.  This requires that we choose to think of past stressful events and then, staying calm, tell ourselves that we no longer need to be stressed by these memories.  Even with this accomplished, the behavior pattern of doing things to keep things from getting worse can continue unless stopping it is addressed directly.  If it is not stopped, automatic stress reactions to past events will continue.  

 

 

Sunday
Aug162015

WHY I PRESCRIBE ABILIFY AND SEROQUEL XR FOR PTSD

Abilify [aripiprazole] and Seroquel XR [quetiapine XR] are called atypical antipsychotic medications with their atypicalness relating to the fact that they increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine as well as decreasing the neurotransmitter dopamine which the typical antipsychotics do as well.  Research studies have shown that Abilify and Seroquel XR can treat bipolar and depressive mood symptoms as well as psychotic symptoms.  Both Abilify and Seroquel XR have low doses available that are helpful for people with mood symptoms without psychotic symptoms as they are more likely to respond to lower doses.  

I have also found that low doses of Abilify and Seroquel XR are helpful in reducing the anxiety that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] experience.  PTSD is felt to be caused by someone experiencing an overwhelming event and then recalling the traumatic nature of the event by having a very sudden intense recalling of the event [a flashback], and/or avoiding situations that are likely to lead to a recollection of the event, and/or re-experiencing smells, or sounds or emotions connected to the event. It used to be thought that only people who have been in combat situations developed PTSD.  It is now recognized that many types of events can lead to the development of PTSD.  This is very important as in my experience,  PTSD is often overlooked as people adapt to chronic stress and are reluctant to report past traumatic events as they are afraid that they will re-experience the trauma, especially as avoidance is a commonly used coping mechanism.  

So, why are powerful medications with the risk of metabolic and glucose metabolism side-effects necessary to help in the treatment of PTSD? [As a side note, these side-effects are not common and if any occur the medication is stopped and the side-effects also are stopped with return of normal functioning].  When we are traumatized and we continue to react like we will be traumatized again, our brains are ever alert to any possible threat and will   react instantly to alert us to possible danger.  This reaction causes stress and anxiety and yet from a survival standpoint is better than not reacting and being overwhelmed and possibly going into shock.  In other words, the brain seems willing to have many false positive reactions to avoid the one false negative non-reaction. It seems that our brains would rather have us react thousands of times when we don't need to in order to avoid not reacting when it is critical that we do react. Other medications can help to lower anxiety levels and reactivity but frequently do not stop the majority of the brains instantaneous anxiety reactions.  To stop our brains from reacting to these perceived threats we need to have our anxiety levels lowered so that our brain's alarm system is not triggered.  We can then learn ways to cope with stress that keep our anxiety levels low and then we will no longer need these medications.

Non-pharmacological treatments for PTSD include: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [TF-CBT]. This treatment can be very helpful in reducing or even eliminating symptoms of PTSD if someone's anxiety level is low enough that they do not feel threatened with being re-traumatized. Interpersonal therapy has also been shown to be helpful in treating PTSD. In addition, mindfulness practices are also helpful and I have blogged about studies that support using these treatments for PTSD.