How to Manage PTSD Without Drugs

( - Do you or someone you love suffer from painful, vivid flashbacks or memories of a traumatic event? Do you find yourself reliving the experience over and over long after the conclusion of the event? You might be suffering from PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It’s not just for soldiers returning from war; anyone can have PTSD after a traumatic event. Soldiers are the largest population that have PTSD and the condition was first recognized as an affliction related to war. However, sufferers include survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and any other traumatic event.

June is PTSD Awareness Month, but any month is a perfect time to clear up some of the misconceptions and raise awareness about this mental illness. Nearly 10 million Americans suffer with PTSD, and many doctors are prescribing medications to deal with the symptoms. Many of the symptoms are naturally manageable without the dangerous side-effects of prescription medication.

Symptoms of PTSD fall under four main categories:

  • Re-experiencing the event may manifest itself in flashbacks or nightmares. This is the heart of PTSD and the root of some of the other symptoms. Flashbacks or nightmares can be so painful that PTSD sufferers will stop doing things that they used to like just to avoid triggering a memory.
  • Sufferers may avoid places or things that remind them of the traumatic event because they don’t want to stir up the bad memories. Some war veterans avoid firework shows because they bring up memories of gunfire.
  • You may begin to feel negatively toward yourself or your family; and lose interest in activities that you once loved. Some survivors of trauma have feelings of shame or guilt because they survived or participated in the traumatic event
  • Hyperarousal leads to sleeplessness. You may feel “always on” and alert for danger. It is a constant state of tension and fear like something bad might happen. Hyperarousal may be a carryover from being in war where heightened arousal is necessary. Your body and nervous system are in a constant defensive state know as “fight or flight.”

Most people experience some of these symptoms right after a traumatic event, but they dull over time. You’re still sad about the event, but it does not take over your life. If these symptoms last longer than a month, you or your loved one might be suffering from PTSD.

Unfortunately, because many people living through the same traumatic events who don’t get PTSD, there is a stigma associated with PTSD. Many people think those who are suffering from PTSD are weak or “just need to get over it.” These people don’t know these traumatic events affect people differently. Some studies have suggested that people who experience a traumatic event and end up with post-traumatic stress have smaller hippocampi.

The hippocampus is a brain structure that controls memory and is part of the limbic system. The limbic system regulates emotion, and if any part of it is damaged, emotional expression can be affected. The emotional problems range from uncontrollable crying to feelings of detachment.

Scientists do not yet know if PTSD caused the hippocampus to shrink or if a small hippocampus led to PTSD. However, there is more evidence to support the conclusion that “trauma shrinks the hippocampus” because the stress hormone, cortisol, damages cells in the hippocampus.

There is not one particular therapy that “cures” PTSD. Different types of psychotherapy are often employed by therapists to talk patients through the memories of the event and help them conquer their fears. Anti-anxiety drugs, sleep aids, and antidepressants are prescribed to help patients manage the symptoms.

As an alternative to the these drugs, there are several natural interventions that can help you manage the symptoms.

Change Your Lifestyle

  • Avoid alcohol, illicit drugs, and caffeine—PTSD sufferers may turn to drugs and alcohol to escape memories and flashbacks, but these substances can exacerbate symptoms. Mind-altering substances also take away your ability to calmly work through episodes. Caffeine can enhance the state of hyperarousal leading to a jittery feeling. It can also contribute to sleeplessness.
  • Exercise regularly—it can occupy your mind so you’re not dwelling on painful thoughts. Exercise can give you back the feeling of control over your life that PTSD has taken from you. It also causes your body to release feel-good hormones called endorphins that bind to receptors in your brain and affect your mood. Take up yoga to relax your body or go for a run to clear your thoughts. More time outdoors in the sun will help your body make more vitamin D, which will give your mood a boost.
  • Learn to meditate—studies have shown that meditation can help alleviate stress. One study in particular was conducted on veterans of the Vietnam War who suffered from PTSD. Meditation was found to help them with depression, substance abuse, sleeplessness, and other symptoms of PTSD.
  • Eat a healthy diet—your body can create the healthiest fuel for your brain from complex carbohydrates. These carbohydrates burn slower to provide your brain with a steady supply of fuel. Raw vegetables, whole grains, and legumes provide the type of raw materials your body needs to make healthy glucose to feed your brain. Processed food and simple sugars create glucose spikes that can cause mood swings. Giving your brain the best nutrition is one of the most important changes you can make to fight PTSD.

Try Herbs and Supplements

  • Valerian—can help you fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep. It is used as an alternative to prescription sleep aids without harmful side effects and it is regarded as safe by the FDA. This herb can be made into tea or taken in pill form. It may take a few weeks of continuous use to get the best effect. You can also take valerian in small doses throughout the day to relieve anxiety. Starting the day well-rested will help you stay focused and give you the mental strength to work through the daily challenges of PTSD.
  • GABA—Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that is made in the brain. It calms the nerves around it from firing too much. A GABA deficiency could be one of the reasons that some people end up with PTSD while others don’t. This supplement offers relief from anxiety and sleeplessness. GABA is available in pill form in different doses. You should consult with your doctor or naturopath to find the dose that is right for you.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids—can help with brain functions and may help with depression. A brain that suffers from depression may be low in DHA and EPA, two chemicals that are essential for a healthy functioning brain. Omega-3s are found in fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna, or you can take a fish oil supplement. A word of caution about fish oil supplements, buy a fish oil capsule with enteric coating to prevent the dreaded “fish burp.” This coating keeps the pill from dissolving in your stomach. Fish oil is a wonderful supplement that is good for your whole body, but the burps are a harmless yet yucky side-effect.

Some cases of PTSD subside or dull naturally over time, but others do not. Make sure to seek the mental health care you need to overcome this disease. In the meantime, try these natural remedies to help you cope with the symptoms.

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