Anna wakes up in the middle of the night, her heart beating hard against her ribcage. She’s short of breath and feels afraid and panicky even if she’s safe at home and alone in her room. Nightly, she has difficulty falling asleep, her body is tired but her mind races a marathon it can’t win. When she does fall asleep, she has the same nightmare, which jolts her awake. The nightmare is so real, as it’s simply a reenactment of a past event. During the day, she is listless and exhausted; her thoughts still on her nightmare and the grim reality that lurks behind it. It is a damaging loop, one that has caused her to distance herself from friends and family, shunning any form of contact unless unavoidable, and preferring to keep to herself and her bed, which she hardly leaves.
Anna is 21. She was recently gang raped while walking home alone from a night out with friends. This is the stuff her nightmares are made of. She sees a psychiatrist weekly and has been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Though this anecdote is purely fictional, it is an example of what many PTSD victims struggle with, sometimes their entire lives.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition brought on by trauma, resulting from physical abuse, often sexual or violent in nature. Severe bouts of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks are oftentimes rooted in one form or another of trauma.
There is a plethora of behavioral symptoms that a PTSD victim may experience that can be categorized into 4 types: negative cognitions and mood; a heightened arousal state; avoidance; “ re-experiencing.”
The first, negative conditions and mood, is characterized by thoughts and feelings ruled by anxiety and depression. Next is a heightened arousal state, which often manifests as exaggerated alertness; the person is in a constant fight-or-flight state where any little thing can trigger reactions that are fueled by a surge of adrenaline, which results in even more anxiety. Avoidance, on the other hand, is shutting out anything that may trigger an anxious and/or emotional state. Whether it’s a situation, a memory, an experience or even certain people, the PTSD sufferer will go to almost any length to avoid it. Finally, there’s re-experiencing, where PTSD sufferers obsessively relive the trauma repeatedly in their heads, sometimes in their dreams—nightmares would be more apt.
Though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) attributes only physical violence or sexual abuse as probable causes of these symptoms, people can experience relentless behavioral changes and extreme emotions due to other forms of trauma, such as emotional and psychological abuse.
A Holistic Approach to Healing Trauma
takes its toll mentally, emotionally, and even physically. It’s a lot like suffering from a major operation, time, effort and a lot of patience is necessary to get optimal results. When a patient heals from an operation, the immediate symptoms eventually disappear. It leaves a scar. And regardless of the healing that has taken place, constant caution and care are needed because the area will remain vulnerable for a long time after. A program that consists of medical attention coupled with a holistic approach is a good option for long-term healing.
A STRONG SUPPORT SYSTEM
There is nothing more effective in helping a trauma victim heal than pure love and consistent support. A group made up of the victim’s doctors or therapists, family, true friends, or anybody else involved in the treatment program can do wonders. Trauma victims need to feel that they can be honest and show their true emotions. There are cases wherein the perpetrator of the trauma is one of those closest to the victim. If this is so, then it is important that the victim sever all ties with this person or maintain a distance that is appropriate to the treatment plan.
It is imperative that the trauma victim regains the strength needed to heal properly. If anything, adequate sleep helps restore the body’s equilibrium, as the nervous system is what suffers when somebody experiences any sort of trauma. Without rest, the victim is more susceptible to anxiety and depression. Ten hours of sleep daily will equip the victim to better deal with the stress. Oftentimes, PTSD sufferers have difficulty getting a good night’s rest. If this is the case, naps and relaxing baths will have to do.
PROPER EATING HABITS & DIET
The connection between eating habits and mental health is stronger than most people think. PSTD sufferers manifest the disorder in a variety of other disorders, which include anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, and substance dependence, among others. These bring on a whole rage of attacks on the victim’s already compromised nervous system. It is important for PSTD victims to eat the right balance of whole foods in order to manage their emotions. Foods that should be avoided include processed foods, such as potato chips and junk food; alcoholic beverages; wheat; caffeine. These are all stress-inducing foods, and in a PSTD sufferers case, can increase the amount of stress that is already there from the trauma. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol can also contribute to the body’s inability to get adequate rest. Caffeine and sugar can cause.
Eliminating or at the very least reducing these in the diet will aid the trauma victim in stress management and overall healing.
When the trauma is great, the PTSD sufferer will quell any memories of the trauma in order to cope. While this may be effective initially, it does nothing for long term healing. Trauma victims need to properly process the experience, which entails talking about it; understanding it, and expressing it via any emotional reaction, be it crying, shouting, or laughing. When this happens the traumatic experience is brought to the forefront, instead of remaining buried in the victim’s sub-conscious. Processing the traumatic experience fully can take time, but with patience and effort, the victim can eventually move past the trauma. Psychotherapy; indulging in creative pursuits, such as painting or making music; keeping a journal or even simply talking about the experience with close friends and family are just some of the activities that a PTSD sufferer can partake in to move forward from the trauma.
There is no set herbal menu for PTSD sufferers. Each case is seen as unique and treatment is tailor fit to the individual’s needs. There are, however, certain types of herbal remedies that can aid in a trauma victim’s healing. These can be broken into three categories: adaptogens, nervines, and tonics.
Adaptogens aid the trauma victim via their strengthening and normalizing properties. Herbs such as reishi, ashwaghanda, holy basil, eleuthero, rhodiola and St. John’s Wort are known to normalize the body’s functions and strengthen the nervous and immune systems.
Nervines contain properties that reduce stress and encourage relaxation. Some examples are skullcap, chamomile, linden, and passion flower. These can be imbibed in tea or tincture forma or used as aromatherapy.
Tonics are great for trauma victims who are exhausted and suffering from mental and emotional agony. Tonics are chockfull of nutrients. Some examples are raspberry leaf, nettles, and oat straw.
Along with other types of treatment, herbal remedies can aid greatly with a trauma victim’s program for optimal healing.
PTSD sufferers often complain of physical ailments such as pain in the heart or lungs, vomiting, deep body aches, or even an upset stomach. Exercise, specifically that which is rooted in mental and spiritual practices aside from the physical, can aid greatly in restoring the balance of the mind and body that was lost to trauma.
Anyone who has experienced extreme abuse whether in the hands of a loved one (spouse, parent or close friend) or a stranger, can result in physical, mental, and emotional damage that is more often than not too hard to handle. Yoga, t’ai chi, and qigong are examples of such exercise and regular practice of any of these can help trauma victims enter a state of wholeness in the mind and body.