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How Trauma Affects Your Brain

Monday, March 4, 2019

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause a host of problems, including anxiety, phobias, insomnia, emotional issues and the inability to maintain healthy relationships. Core symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, distressing thoughts and feelings of being constantly on edge. To be considered PTSD, these symptoms need to continue for at least two weeks and interfere with day-to-day life. PTSD also commonly co-occurs alongside other issues such as substance abuse, depression and memory problems.

While you may associate PTSD with combat veterans, the reality is that this disorder can affect people from all backgrounds, whether they personally experienced a traumatic event or learned about it secondhand. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults, and women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

What Does Trauma Do to Your Brain?

PTSD primarily affects the function of two areas in your brain: the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Together, these two parts of the brain regulate your body’s natural “fight-or-flight” instinct that activates when you are in danger.

Studies of the threat response in people with PTSD show a hyper-reactive amygdala and a less active prefrontal cortex. That means the amygdala overreacts to threats, while the prefrontal cortex responds more slowly than normal. An overactive amygdala keeps people with PTSD on constant alert. They may respond more angrily or impulsively to perceived danger, or feel fearful and unable to take pleasure in life.

Effective Therapy for PTSD Sufferers

If trauma has taken hold of your life, there is hope. A revolutionary treatment called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, has proven highly effective at treating trauma.

Neuropsychologists believe EMDR works by introducing changes in the brain’s circuitry, similar to what happens during the REM phase of the sleep cycle. During EMDR therapy, people can rapidly access traumatic memories and process them emotionally and cognitively, which helps them resolve their trauma by reframing it in a different light.

By allowing trauma victims to relive unpleasant memories within a safe environment, EMDR enhances the way the brain processes information and encourages them to form new associations around their traumatic memories. Essentially, the goal of EMDR is to retrain your brain to have positive thoughts instead of replaying negative ones.

What Is an EMDR Session Like?

EMDR takes a nontraditional approach to resolving PTSD. It does not rely on talk therapy or medications. Instead, EMDR therapists will ask you to move your eyes rapidly from side to side while recalling a negative event.

EMDR specialists use light, sound and hand movements to reinforce the outcomes of this unique form of therapy. Researchers studying EMDR have found this approach helps resolve trauma-related symptoms faster than traditional psychotherapy methods. It is also an effective treatment for other psychological problems, such as anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders.

Women’s-Only EMDR Therapy in Prescott, AZ

Don’t let past traumas hold you back from realizing your full potential in life. If you are suffering from PTSD and related substance misuse disorders, contact Canyon Crossing to discover the benefits of EMDR and other treatment methods that are appropriate for your needs. Our credentialed addiction specialists are here to help.

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