Official blog for the book "Just Behind the Door"

Posts tagged ‘PTSD’

Stress and the Sexes

Sudden stress brings out the fight or flight syndrome in all of us. However, have you ever noticed the difference in the way males and females react to stressful life changing events that are more long term? In the past we may have chalked it up to the frequently used explanation that women are simply more emotional and men more logical in their thinking. But with the significant increase in research on brain function (now in both male and female subjects) we are beginning to understand a much deeper ‘why’ for the differences regarding long term stress. It is not simply mind over matter. At the recent annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience it was shown that “a common stress hormone triggers different responses in specific brain cells of male and female animals. The differences make females less able than males to adapt to chronic stress.”

Females, often the caregivers for the young, need a heightened stress response to protect their young. The problem, according to researcher Debra Bangasser of Temple University is when this heightened response is “responding for a really long time in a way that becomes disruptive” (and creates a state of constant hyper-readiness).

We may think to ourselves that research findings on animals are one thing but humans quite another until we further read about a series of recent studies on U.S. Adolescents and Adults where it was found that stress plays a role in many disorders that occur more often in women than men. Many of us might think to ourselves, ‘I knew that…’ but the actual extent of this difference is quite surprising. For instance, the lifetime prevalence of stress-related disorders by sex for panic disorders is 6.2% for females and only 3.1% for males. PTSD for females is 9.7% and 3.6 % for males. Females suffer migraines at 18.2% compared to males at 6.5%. Insomnia occurs in 12.9% of females and only 6.2% of males. In fact, of the 11 different areas of stress disorders measured males were higher by percentage than females in only two – alcohol and drug abuse.

The long and short of what I understand is that due to the biological/chemical differences between males and females we react differently to long term stress and that the medications that have been used up to this point to address theses conditions have basically been the same for both sexes.

According to Brain Trainor, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, “it is only a matter of time” before medications for anxiety and depression need to be formulated differently for men and women to account for biological differences.

Like everything in life, once we understand the why of a situation or condition we respond and think differently. Applause to those researchers who are working to help us reach a deeper, more humane way of understanding human needs.

Have a great few days!

Survivor Guilt

Survivor Guilt also known as survivor syndrome was first identified in the 1960’s. It was the topic of a CNN special aired this week and dealt with an important aspect related to loss, grief and healing. The program delved into the topic by reviewing aviation. In the history of air flight only 14 people have survived major airplane crashes that resulted in a sole survivor. Many live with the question of ‘Why was I spared’ which seems to be a burden they carry for the rest of their lives. During the interviews some of these survivors made the comment, ‘I’m supposed to be grateful I survived but…’

In researching this topic It appears that this type of guilt is more common that we might first imagine. We know that many of our brave servicemen who return from war suffer from PTSD which often includes this type of guilt. But in addition, this type of guilt may even surface when a person experiences the death of a loved one and can be a major challenge to overcome.

The symptoms related to survivor guilt can included anxiety, social withdrawal, depression, physical complaint and loss of drive. Basically, the reason, purpose and relevance of life is called into question by the survivors. Without help they can become stuck in a space of anger, denial and feelings of hopelessness.

Recognizing this in ourselves or others is paramount for healing. Regardless of the type of situation involved in the loss we are suffering, we did not cause the loss and, in fact, could not have prevented it. The Universe is much more powerful than we are and destiny plays a major role in our lives. Each one of us has chosen the lessons and lives that would result in helping us learn our lessons. The loss of a loved one and our survival was the result of a life agreement long, long ago. Unfortunately, being human we sometimes believe that we should have been powerful enough, smart enough or wise enough to prevent the loss from happening. That’s just not how the Universe works.The American Politician William Jennings Bryan said, ‘Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved (and understood).

When we reach out to others to help them process their grief it can make their grief a bit easier to handle. Any one of us may say just the right thing at just the right moment to help someone begin to overcome survivors’ grief. It is always worth the try and even if we do not see immediate improvement it is again, worth continuing our effort to reach out to a fellow traveler who is suffering.

Being there for someone and encouraging them to talk about their loss experience
helps immensely. Everyone needs someone to listen to them from time to time and experiencing a loss intensifies this need. It is always better to surface the feelings regardless of their nature than to keep them bottled up inside. Think of it as helping a potential volcano release some of the pressure before a full fledged eruption. A person’s loss may, at times, be like lava seething, bubbling just below the surface creating the type of pressure that can cause them to explode unless the occasional stem vents ( in the form of conversation and connection) surface to help release the pressure little by little.

We are here to learn our individual lessons and make the world a little better place by being in it. Helping others through their loss allows us to become a conduit for healing.

Have a great few days!