PTSD Forum with Dr. Dee Rajska


PTSD ForumPTSD FORUM

Dr. Dee carries on in answer to your comments. BONNIE

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych, Clinical and Rehabilitation Psychologist, focuses on the treatment of trauma in her clinical practice located in St. Catharines, Ontario. She originally received her Ph. D. from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

 

Hi again!

I’d like to start off today by sending out a big “thank you” to everyone who has contributed to the discussion. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself. And you know, taking to myself… Worse yet, laughing at my own corny jokes… that would just be bad for business. 🙂

Your comments also answer my question: what do you guys actually want to talk about?

So – today, I’d like to follow up on Randall’s comments to my last post (thanks Randall, for bringing up a great topic!) 🙂

Randall wrote, in part: “yesterday I could not dial the phone despite knowing that there was no immediate threat in doing so”.

So, what I’d like to explain is, “How is it that I can understand that there’s no real threat, but still end up acting like there’s a threat?”

Simple – well, sort of. Okay, there’s going to be a brain biology lesson involved. But I’ll keep it simple. Promise.

As we’ve discussed before, PTSD is based on the fight-or-flight reflex, which is a built-in response to threat. In PTSD, this reflex goes into overdrive and gets triggered whenever you’re reminded of a threat.

Here’s a cartoon that gives you the gist of fight-or-flight:

http://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/animations/fofmovie-start.swf

(I know – you can’t fix PTSD by imagining your triggers in polka-dot underpants… Hey, it was the best link I could find that wasn’t totally boring. And don’t you love the caveman’s cute little dress? Or am I the only one who would totally wear that?)

So – to help me explain it, think of your brain as an orange.

(Hey – it’s either the orange, or I start throwing around Latin words that are harder to pronounce than my last name…)

Orange it is  🙂

The peel of the orange is the “gray matter”. It’s got all your smarts – this is where you analyze, make decisions, set priorities, and so on. You’re conscious only of the stuff that the gray matter does: the other parts of your brain do their thing behind the scenes, as reflex.

The fruit part of the orange is the “white matter”. It’s a messenger – it sends ideas back and forth and makes your brain work quickly to translate a thought into an action.

You know how sometimes, you buy a cheap orange, and it’s got some seeds in it? Yeah, so the brain is basically a bargain-brand orange, with seeds in it.

One of these seeds is a little thing called the amygdala – it’s responsible for our reaction to threat.

(I know, I promised no Latin words – but this is the only one, I swear… And it’s totally easy to pronounce: uh-MIG-duh-luh. See? You can totally say that. Maybe even five times fast)

The amygdala sets off your fight-or-flight reaction, in response to anything that reminds it of a threat. It’s a reflex, so it doesn’t ask your permission before it goes off.

So – to bring it all back to Randall’s comment – how is it that you can realize that there’s no threat, and still react like there is one?

Simple – the realizing that there’s no threat is coming from the peel of your orange. But, at the same time, one of the seeds in your orange (your amygdala) is reminded of a threat, so it’s reacting as if you were in danger. Two different parts of your brain are doing two different things, at the same time.

So, you say, that’s all well and good, but how do you control it?

By reminding yourself that your fear is a reflex, and reflex is not a choice.

I know – I repeat that line a LOT. I really want you to start repeating it to yourself.

Here’s what you’re probably doing instead: your inside voice is probably saying: “It’s a (bleeping) phone call. What the (bleep) is (bleeping) wrong with me?”

Ya know what happens when you talk to yourself this way? You make yourself nervous. The more you make yourself nervous, the more your amygdala feels there’s a threat – so you’re feeding the fight-or-flight monster by putting yourself down.

Instead, try starving the monster, by doing something that helps you relax – use your grounding skills. Help bring the anxiety down, and it’ll be easier to get going again.

What do you think, guys? Does that answer the question? Are you impressed that I taught you how the brain works by using a bargain-brand orange?

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

REFERENCE:

Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
 
 
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About Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych

I'm a clinical and rehabilitation psychologist in private practice in St. Catharines, Ontario. My work is primarily in the assessment and treatment of trauma, with a particular focus on service-related trauma in veterans, active duty military, and law enforcement personnel.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, caregivers, depression, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, physical disability, post traumatic stress disorder, social workers, suicide, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to PTSD Forum with Dr. Dee Rajska

  1. TammyeHoney says:

    Thank you for sharing this great information. This is so important to our Veterans to feel they have a place to find information.

  2. Hi Tammy,

    If you’d like to share information about the forum with your readers because you think that they might find it useful, by all means I don’t mind – it is our hope to try to reach out to anyone who is in need and who might benefit. Thank you for your help! 🙂

  3. Randall says:

    So basically to recap what youve said here Doc. Is that since the call in question is an undesirable one. One that I would not make given the choice, my amygdala heightens my tension and nervousness and labels this action this phone call as a threat. So my fight or flight “Reflex” says run, stop, dont engage, dont do it! I get the Robbie the Robot reaction “Danger Will Robinson Danger” and I am stuck on the couch watching tv or reading and simply dont call even though it is a call THAT MUST BE MADE! So ” fear is a reflex and a reflex is not a choice”. I shall attempt to implement this technique when next this behaviour shows itself. Awesome post doc lets see if I can turn it to practical advantage! I have to admit it seems a little simple when explained as you did we shall be witness to the results sooner rather than later though.lol.

    • Hey Randall!

      Sorry it took me a bit to get back to you, I was away on vacation.

      In summary – yep, you’ve got it.

      In a nutshell, your amygdala is misinterpreting unpleasant as dangerous. And when you feel disgusted with yourself for not making that phone call, you feed that monster.

      Ways to try and talk down that sense of threat is to say things like, “I’m really not going to enjoy this but I’ll feel better once I have it over with”. Think about the sense of accomplishment you’ll have once it’s done, and plan a pleasant activity to reward yourself.

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