PTSD brain neuroplasticity

Photo: jscreationzs

Last week I wrote about how the brain changes after trauma. This week, some ideas about why that happens…

Recently, I interviewed Dr. Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Mental Health Patient Care Center Director at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center. I asked her to explain what happens in the brain during trauma. She outlined it by saying that during a trauma the individual responds to a threat through the following processes:

  • the brain gives signals of trauma
  • the brain’s main function is to get through the event
  • the brain helps us survive by activating biologic reactions involved in helping us mount the fight/flight response
  • the sympathetic nervous system releases adrenalin (your heart racing and the acceleration of your breathing signifies the release of adrenalin, which readies you to move)
  • the brain lowers the chemicals released to help us with regular functions (parasympathetic nervous systems energy is diverted to help you cope with surviving)
  • hormones are released to reign in stress response to stop long term damage to your body.

After trauma, Yehuda notes, not all brains reset themselves but they always try to recalibrate. “When things happen to us we don’t go back to the way we were,” she explains. “After trauma, the brain’s job is to remember what happened and develop survival skills for the future. The brain integrates the lesson of trauma; it re-calibrates to do better next time.”

So, what hope do we have of recovery? Yehuda answered: “The good news is, if your brain can change in response to one environment that is trauma it can change in response to treatment, too. Our brains are capable of change.”

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed, despondent and hopeless when dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Learning about the possibility to recover, however, will help you have hope, belief and above all, the motivation to seek the right help to get you on the path to becoming your next self.

For further exploration of how the brain can change, check out these resources: