Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death. PTSD can occur at any age and is frequently seen in people who have experienced any of the following: natural disasters, assault, abuse, incarceration, rape, terrorist acts, or combat. It can also occur after severe automobile accidents or any event that involves violence and/or bodily harm.
The exact cause is unknown and if two people experience the same trauma, it possible for one person to be affected by PTSD and the other to not. PTSD changes the body’s stress response, including the release of neurotransmitters.
Common symptoms of PTSD include: reliving the event in manners which disturb day-to-day activities (including sleep), emotional avoidance, depression, detachments, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, irritability and anger outbursts, as well as more physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and heart palpitations. It is most commonly treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy.
How can PTSD be treated holistically? In Chinese Medicine, PTSD is treated as an imbalance of the body as much as one of the mind, so the focus is on resolving the physical symptoms as well as emotional and psychological ones. There are many ways to supplement Western medicine treatments for PTSD and help you manage living with the condition, ideally by resolving some of the symptoms that disrupt day-to-day living. The energy in your body (called qi) can get stuck, depleted, or overactive because of an experience of trauma, which can lead to cumulative effects that cause symptoms such as insomnia, flashbacks, heart palpitations, and anxiety. Through acupuncture and shiatsu treatments, your body is given a chance to help restore the natural balance of qi and movement within all your bodily systems, including your mind. There are also many suggestions for herbs and food to help your body heal as well that may be prescribed or suggested to you during treatments.
What to Take In, What to Avoid:
Try adding more apples, beets, and mung beans to your meals. Limit spicy hot foods, caffeine, and alcohol intake, particularly if having sleep difficulties. Focus on eating meals at regular times each day and have warm, cooked food as often as possible (soups and stews vs. raw or cold foods).
If you’re feeling particularly angry or irritable, try drinking an herbal tea made of Gardenia Fruit (Zhi Zi) and Prepared Soybean (Dan Dou Chi). Alternatively, mint tea or chrysanthemum tea is also good for helping our body cool during periods of heat and agitation, as well as disperse stuck energy.
All of us can benefit from slow, deep breathing practices – using our diaphragm fully to inhale and exhale has the added benefit of massaging our internal organs! But it’s also a useful tool for connecting and restoring our autonomic systems, which are frequently taxed by stress and emotions, particularly recurrent ones. Relaxed and deep breathing can be studied through many different forms: yoga, qi gong, tai chi, shiatsu, guided meditation, zen meditation – any system that speaks to you and will keep you interested in the practice will work. Starting and ending your day with breathing exercises can be helpful ways to connect to your body and mind, helping you feel both relaxed and rejuvenated. It can also provide a tool to use during moments of strong and overwhelming emotions that come with periods of anxiety and flashbacks that people with PTSD experience.
Physical Exercise and Strength Training:
Our bodies do well with movement, to keep our energy moving and building while also releasing excess energy. If possible, aim for moderate exercise every day, even just a 15 minute walk. Several times a week it’s good to engage in an activity that will have you break a sweat, and make sure to include strength training and stretching in your routines as well – this can be anything from weightlifting to yoga to qi gong, as long as the focus is on balance, stretching every muscle, and encouraging our body to push itself to a limit, briefly.
Physical activity encourages our breathing and disperses blocked energy that can lead to anger and irritability. For people who are feeling lethargic, fatigued, and/or depressed, moving and stretching our bodies can increase our energy and confidence as well. If you have any physical injuries or constraints, consult with an expert about what are the best exercise types for you, but make sure you also pick ones that you find interesting and fun, to help maintain a routine and keep you going back to it.
Don’t think you have to join a gym or create a whole new life schedule! Stretch your body while waiting for the shower to warm up or talking on the phone. Take deep breaths while waiting for the bus or even waiting for the internet to load. Walk around the neighborhood while waiting for laundry to finish. These little moments add up.