When you are in a life-threatening situation, something in your brain changes. What becomes of most important is survival. The need to stay alive despite the situation you’re in that has you on the edge of life or death. To do this, here’s what happens:
The body produces increased blood sugar levels to provide extra energy for the muscles. There is an increase in cortisol that counters the pain and inflammation in the body, if there is any. Blood pressure rises. Blood is pumped away from the extremities of the body towards major muscles in order to provide them with extra strength. And there is an increased amount of endorphins to facilitate ignoring physical pain in the body.
Teen Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This translates as a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking and sweating palms, and feeling hot. All of this happens in seconds, more quickly than you notice. In an instant, the body prepares itself to either fight or flight. This is the response of the sympathetic nervous system.
Once the traumatic event is over, the parasympathetic nervous system will kick in and the body will return to a more relaxed state. Sometimes, the trauma won’t leave any lasting effect once the event has passed. However, depending on the severity of the event, the resiliency of the person, their psychological makeup, conditioning, ethnicity, and other factors, the event can leave severe effects on the psyche, leading to mental illnesses, such as teen Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and even bipolar disorder.
The typical symptoms of someone who has experienced a traumatic event and who has not sufficiently healed from that life-threatening experience include: anxiety, extreme emotional fluctuation, flashbacks, loneliness, anger, irritability, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. An individual might also exhibit symptoms of avoidance, such as staying away from certain places to avoid reliving the traumatic experience or forgetting the experience entirely.
One’s beliefs about life and the way the world is ordered can change instantly. A deep trust in the world prior to trauma can easily turn into distrust of other people, certain circumstances, and even oneself. This can be especially true if trauma repeats itself, such as witnessing death in war or ongoing sexual abuse by a family member. Repeated trauma can cause a worsening of anxiety, feeling a constant high level of alert and paranoia.
Parts of the brain to do with memory functioning can shrink with repeated trauma, making it difficult to form new memories. Also the stress that is the result of experiencing a traumatic event and that remains unresolved can lead to physical health problems such as diabetes, obesity, chronic pain, and hypertension.
Treating PTSD effectively includes both psychotherapy and medication. The medication can help manage fluctuating moods and high levels of anxiety. However, therapy can provide ways to cope with the anxiety. And facilitate awareness of triggers that might prompt a distressing memory, and provide comfort through a difficult time. However, the most important part of therapy is to eventually uncover the emotions of terror that you dissociated from during the life-threatening event. Once those emotions are brought to the surface and finally experienced, that’s when the flashbacks and the emotional deregulation will cease.
In fact, anyone suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, or PTSD might feel as though emotions come out of nowhere. That they are too chaotic to manage. It might feel like they are unpredictable and disrupting. Emotional awareness has everything to do with healing the primary symptoms of PTSD. You won’t be able to manage your emotions unless you know how to manage stress. The two are inherently related. Emotions can feel as though they are unpredictable. They can come on strongly at times and create a stressful experience. Learning how to manage emotions, similar to the ability to manage stress, depends first on your level of emotional awareness.
The inability to manage emotions can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Such as drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings when they seem frightening or overwhelming. They might be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. These emotions might also lead to shutting down.
Therefore, having tools that allow you to manage emotions and/or stress quickly can support your well-being and facilitate resolving and healing from a traumatic event.