The Modern Epidemic of PTSD, and a More Effective Method for Resolving It
By Darren Starwynn, O.M.D.
In this article you will learn about a new way to understand the roots of the current epidemic of chronic stress and PTSD in our culture. After this introduction I will present a new method for helping to resolve pernicious stress that is showing a high level of effectiveness, even after other medical and therapeutic methods do not work.
“PTSD”, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is now affecting millions of people in every walk of life, not just veterans returning from war. An unprecedented overload of electronic digital stimulation, economic insecurity plus a planet full of seemingly unsolvable problems has made living in a state of chronic stress the new normal.
How we deal with that varies, and each of us has our “drug of choice” to try to keep discomfort at bay. Besides the mainstays of drugs, alcohol and tobacco many people try to manage stress with workaholism, compulsive physical activity, escapist online activities and even spirituality (when used as a way to avoid self-connection and self-love).
PTSD is characterized by frequent anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, social avoidance and high sensitivity to stimuli. These unpleasant experiences can be triggered by things that seem harmless and innocent to most people, such as social mixers, movies, relationship challenges and unexpected noises. These experiences bring up past traumatic experiences so intensely that the person re-lives them. Such experiences are called “triggers”. [i]
PTSD, and suicide related to it, are 61% higher among military veterans than the general population. This is a major crisis for our military and our society. [ii]
In the context of this article I am using the term PTSD to describe the state of chronic stress and mental over-activity that so many modern people live in. There needs to be a distinction between that and people who have been medically diagnosed with full-blown PTSD, which is more devastating. Yet even the more “normal” levels of chronic stress can be quite debilitating.
The part of the nervous system most closely associated with PTSD is the amygdala, nut shaped structures in the limbic, or emotional area of the brain. The amygdala creates associations between common experiences of life and past hurts and fears in an attempt to protect us from encountering those same hurts again. This is useful to an extent – it is good to remember that touching that hot plate causes an “owie” in your fingers, or that ignoring red flags in relationships and making unsound investments usually ends up badly.
When the amygdala part of the brain is activated by a triggering experience it prepares the body to respond to danger. It does this by sending a distress signal to the nearby part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the major command and control center of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the body’s stress response system. Once the hypothalamus swings into action it instantly gets the body ready to fight or flee through turning on these sympathetic responses:
- Heartbeat speeds up and blood pressure increases
- Breathing deepens
- Large amounts of glucose (sugar) is released from storage in fat to increase available energy
- The adrenal glands go on high alert and start dumping adrenaline into the bloodstream for “fight or flight” response
- Sight and hearing become more acute
- Digestion is put on hold and the immune system is shut down to free up as much energy as possible for fighting or fleeing
These are highly appropriate responses when there is real danger, as they put our body in top shape for dealing with emergencies. The vulnerability of the system is that the amygdala can go on overdrive and cause us to stay in a state of fearful arousal even when there is no actual threat facing us. So it is appropriate to get riled up if a real car is swerving toward you at 70 mph. But it is not helpful if you get tense and anxious any time you are driving.
This is the dilemma and tragedy of PTSD – the amygdala of the brain gets programmed to create inappropriate associations of danger and emergency to harmless experiences of everyday life. This wires our body to be in a sympathetic stress response some or most of the time. Staying in sympathetic stress mode can be devastating to the body and is associated with these health issues:
- heart disease
- immune deficiency
- chronic fatigue
- chronic anxiety and/or depression, phobias
- all kinds of digestive disorders
- chronic pain
- urge to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs
- over-active mind, making it hard to be in your calm center and be happy
Sadly, our modern society is full of triggers that stimulate our stress systems much of the time.
A key finding from the medical field of PNI (Psychoneuroimmunology) is that lowered immune function related to trauma and stress is a major causative factor for many cancers.
What is the cost of all this? The first is the obvious cost in human suffering and death. The next is the massive economic cost. Expenditures for treating heart disease, cancer and anxiety disorders in the USA alone total over $640 billion dollars a year and are expected to rise. [iii]
Let’s now take a deeper look at the causes of our epidemic of PTSD.
Our Minds and Computers
Our minds work similarly to computers. I’m sure this is because computers were created by the human mind. Computers process information and run on programs. If the program is well-written and used properly, it can create rapid results that enhance our productivity. If the program contains bugs (errors) or what computer geeks call corruption, it will cause all kinds of unpredictable problems and frustrations. And make us spend a lot of time, and maybe money, trying to get the bugs fixed. Ever feel like throwing your computer against the wall?
I’m going to show you how our minds are also susceptible to bugs and “corruption” that can make us have a bad day (or miserable life). I’m also going to explain what we need to do to stop being controlled by these negative programs.
What computers do in themselves is neither good or bad, positive or negative. A computer simply stores and processes bits of information and regurgitates them as it is directed to do. Good information in = good information out. Garbage in = garbage out. So if you have good software loaded into your computer and use it properly, it is a thing of beauty.
That is exactly how it is with our minds. Feed positive, loving and empowering messages and images into it and we enjoy good and harmonious experiences in our life. Feed a stream of disturbing, manipulative and fear-based messages into it and it will create some variation of PTSD.
I have worked with hundreds of clients in therapeutic and healing sessions. What has come out in most of these sessions are old hurts and trauma from their past that are acting like computer viruses or malware. These old unresolved traumas have turned into self-replicating programs running endlessly in my client’s minds and hearts. These programs lower their vitality, mess up their relationships, tear down their self-confidence and reduce their enjoyment of life. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that people bogged down by chronic stress feel blocked and inhibited from moving forward with doing what they would be most inspired to do. This leads to an unfulfilled and limited life.
Current treatments for PTSD
Clinicians and therapists are trying to turn the tide of PTSD with an array of interventions that generally offer limited and inconsistent results. Some of the more popular methods include:[iv]
Psycho-pharmacology: While psychotropic meds can be life-saving during times of crisis long term use of them is rarely safe and satisfactory for people with PTSD. This is because modifying brain chemistry does not resolve the underlying traumatic imprints causing the symptoms. Use of anti-depressants has also shown a disturbing pattern of increasing risk of suicide among teenagers and veterans.
Cognitive therapies – challenges negative patterns of thought in order to modify self-defeating behaviors and help relieve depression. An attempt to re-program our mental computers described above.
EMDR – Rapid eye movement therapy intended to help desensitize people with PTSD to the harmful effects of trauma. Has shown promising benefits for PTSD.
Emotional Freedom Technique: A self-help method that involves training a person to tap acu-pressure points on their own head and body to help control stress and depression.
Hypnosis – Another method to reprogram the mental computer with more positive and life-affirming suggestions
Art and music therapies: These help enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being. Probably works in part by balancing left and right brain functions and helping touch and open the emotional heart.
Acupuncture: Works in complex ways to relieve pain and improve vitality, mood and affect. There is no effective cookbook way to use acupuncture to relieve PTSD. Skilled practitioners using individualized diagnosis and treatment selection are essential for success.
Summary: Each of these methods has been well researched and has been shown to offer some degree of effectiveness in alleviating PTSD. Yet the epidemic of PTSD, and the suicide rate, continues to grow. There is a great need for a more consistently effective methods that both relieve distressing symptoms and help resolve the root imprints of the condition.
Why are some people more susceptible than others to developing PTSD?
Statistics from RAND suggest that more than 20% of all active military personnel suffer with PTSD. Some knowledgeable inside military sources believe that this number is understated. 20 – 30% is certainly a big number of affected service people. Yet this stat is also showing that that larger majority of troops do not develop this disorder, even though most of them are exposed to similar stressors as those who do develop PTSD.
This same dichotomy is seen in schools and workplaces. In any such community a minority of people will get tend to develop depression or anxiety disorders or get sick, and a majority will stay healthy. Why are some people more susceptible than others?
This is a very big and important question, and I will offer my own insights toward an answer.
After my decades of clinical and healing experience I have observed that people who have experienced trauma and abandonment in their childhood are more likely to develop PTSD as adults. Their internal computer is already pre-programmed with buggy emotional software. Therefore they are more likely to experience severe anxiety, depression or PTSD when life brings stresses and setbacks than would be the case with their peers who had more loving and secure childhoods.
This is a fairly simple explanation, and one that is easy to grasp. The rabbit hole actually goes a lot deeper.
A fascinating research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 tracked 169 African American trauma survivors from Atlanta, Georgia. The people in this group had been through an average of seven significantly traumatic events in their lives, including violent assault, rape and sexual abuse. Yet only about one third of this group developed PTSD. Of the 61 people who did develop PTSD about half had experienced abuse as children and half did not.[v]
What can we see in these findings? That while being abused in childhood or adulthood is a high risk factor for PTSD, the majority of abused people have some kind of inner resilience that prevents them from going down that path. Their emotional nature seems to have enough of the “water sliding off the duck’s back” quality to keep them better able to be emotionally stable.
So, what is that gives some people that inner resilience to avoid being devastated by traumatic experiences? It seems that these resilient ones instinctively know how to bring their mind into their inner, calm center during stressful times. Those who do get walloped by stress and develop PTSD are unable to do so.
Our Calm Inner Center
You know about those hurricanes that sometimes ravage the eastern USA? I lived through a few of those growing up. Funny thing about hurricanes – even though destructive winds can be howling at 70 – 150 miles per hour on the outer part of the storm there is always a calm, peaceful area in the middle of the hurricane called the eye. Birds can fly in a leisurely way in the eye, and airplanes have even been able to fly safely there.
Our psyche also has a calm center – even at the times we feel very emotionally triggered. Our calm center is always available to us. This is a really good thing because it is very hard, and sometimes impossible, to control the hurricane winds of our minds.
Have you ever tried to not think? Then you will know what I am talking about. Most people I know groan about how their over-active minds make it hard for them to totally relax, and sometimes to even sleep.
The key here is not in struggling to control our minds and trying to think good thoughts. I and millions of others have tried concentrating and meditating until we are blue in the face without accomplishing that long-term. You know what I mean?
The key is to get intimate with your calm center and learn how to put your attention there whenever you want. Now these two things, controlling the mind and being in your calm center can sound like the same thing but they are not. One is an effort to change, which takes enormous energy, and the other is simply relaxing and being with what already is.
As one of my mentors said – grab a pen and hold it in your hand. Then open your hand and let it fall. How hard was that? That is how simple it CAN be to let go of inner struggle and be in your calm center.
What is simple is not always easy, however. If it was easy to turn away from our stress-inducing mental hurricanes and be in our calm centers our society would be a very different place.
There are several complicating factors making it difficult for most people to be grounded in their inner peaceful center. The most important ones to understand are these:
- Digital overload: Until very recently our ancestors lived without computers, smart phones and big screen TVs, in an environment largely free of irritating electro-magnetic fields. That means that the human race evolved for close to a million years without all that. We have just started swimming around in an ocean of digital communications and EM fields over the last few decades. No one knows the long term consequences of that on our brains, hearts and immune systems, and we are the test guinea pigs. There is already abundant research that confirms the immune-suppressive and stress inducing effects of these fields, and more evidence comes in yearly.
- Media pollution: There are huge conglomerates that profit by repeatedly pushing your stress buttons. These companies also happen to control most of the media and pharmaceutical industries. We are used to piping television, movies and internet broadcasts full of fear and stress-producing content into our homes and other personal spaces. As mentioned above, TV news full of unsolvable crises from all over the world is a prime culprit in activating the “garbage in – garbage out” function of our minds.
- Consciousness fallout: The accelerating pace of change on our planet is also bringing up to the surface old traumatic memories and imprints that had been buried in our subconscious minds, and into our brains and nervous systems for re-processing. Kind of like a mental roto-rooter.
This last point is a big subject in itself, and I cannot give an adequate explanation about it in this short article. I do feel, however that this is a major triggering factor in the modern epidemic of PTSD.
The need for a better solution
The reason most therapies for PTSD produce limited effectiveness is that they are largely attempting to help people control or modify their mental and emotional patterns. Just like trying to tame the winds of a hurricane, this is often a losing battle for people with significant trauma. The real answer is for people to learn to regularly ground themselves in their inner calm center, the eye of the hurricane.
Some treatment programs for veterans and survivors of domestic violence offer meditation and mindfulness programs to try to help them do that. These approaches have helped many stressed-out people learn to better relax. Yet it is still very hard for the people who need help the most to comply with the practices. This is a major unsolved dilemma in the pursuit of an effective treatment system for PTSD.
What you have read so far underlines the urgent need for a better solution.
What follows is a brief description of a new combination therapy that offers superior results.
Energy Medicine and Quantum healing
Viewpoints about the human body’s interaction with subtle energy fields has long been seen as separate from scientific medicine. This has been changing in recent years. There is now growing recognition of the energetic nature of life through many recent studies. This is opening up exciting new avenues for more effective treatments for challenging conditions, and this is particularly true for chronic pain and trauma.
What follows is a combination of findings from well-documented research with my own personal observations and clinical experiences.
Energy medicine is a major branch of CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine. These methods recognize and work with low-level energy field interactions, and include acupuncture, phototherapy, sound healing and more.
The term “biofield” was originated in 1992 at a National Institutes of Health meeting. [vi] I use this term to refer methods that relieve pain and helps heal trauma through interactions with client’s energy fields.
This quote from B. Rubik clearly states the basis for energy medicine:[vii]
Living systems may be regarded as complex, nonlinear, dynamic, self-organizing systems of energetic and field phenomena. At the highest level of organization, each life form may possess an innate biologic field, or biofield, a complex, dynamic, weak energy field involved in maintaining the integrity of the whole organism, regulating its physiologic and biochemical responses, and integral to development, healing, and regeneration (Rubik, 1993, 1997, 2002b).
A retrospective study published in 2010 reviewed 66 clinical studies using a variety of biofield therapies in different patient populations.[viii] The conclusion of the study was that biofield therapies show strong positive evidence for reducing pain among chronic pain patients, and moderate evidence for reducing cancer pain, negative behavioral symptoms and anxiety among hospitalized patients. While this is a good validation for the efficacy of biofield healing methods, I believe that there are methods now available that are more powerfully effective than those examined in this study.
The biofield of the body consists of measureable electrical fields of the brain, heart, nervous system and cellular activity. There are also subtle energies contributing to the field that cannot yet be directly measured by test equipment, but can be verified through other, indirect methods.
The human biofield surrounds and permeates the physical body and is approximately the shape of an egg.[ix] The human biofield interacts with the electro-magnetic fields of the Earth and other people around us. In terms of physics, that makes us an “open system” – one that interacts and exchanges energy with the environment.
Our biofield is strongly affected by man-made electro-magnetic fields, usually with negative effects on our health and well-being. One likely reason for the spike in stress-related pain and disease is that most people live in urban areas removed from the harmonious energies of nature, and surrounded by these more stress-inducing fields.
People suffering with inflammation, pain, disease and emotional trauma have significant perturbations in areas of their biofield. These can be detected in many ways, including hand scanning and the use of an infrared bioscanner device. A skilled practitioner help resolve the root causes of pain and trauma by adjusting the biofield in conjunction with voice dialogue.
In many cases energetic adjustments to the biofield are more important for producing good therapeutic results than interventions done directly on the physical body. In any case biofield healing can augment and support effectiveness of physically-based treatment systems including western medicine, psychology, massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and much more.
In my work with chronic pain and trauma patients over the last 34 years I have studied many systems and developed new treatment approaches. I have concluded that the most effective system for treating people with PTSD and related issues is a combination of vibrational therapies and Quantum Healing, which works through consciousness to harmonize a person’s body and biofield with their greater field of light and one-ness. The vibrational therapies I have found most effective use color light, microcurrents and sound healing methods. [x]
Using these methods I have helped clients release long-help phobias, improve sleep, release chronic pain, get clear mentally and significantly reduce anxiety and depression. Through a course of treatments they learn to find and tune into their own inner calm center so they stop escalating fearful and stress-based thoughts. Further details on this healing system for PTSD are available to interested colleagues.
The ultimate goal of this work is not just alleviation of distressing symptoms. It is to bring traumatized people into a clear and grounded consciousness where they can make new, life-affirming choices and move forward with creating a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Contact information for the author:
Darren Starwynn, O.M.D.
[i] Post-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma J. Sherin, M.D., PhD Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011 Sep; 13(3): 263–278
[ii] Statistics Website: http://www.veteransandptsd.com/PTSD-statistics.html
[iii] Cost to treat heart disease in United States will triple by 2030, Science Daily, January 2013 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110124121545.htm
[iv] Effective Treatments for PTSD, Second Edition: Practice Guidelines
edited by Edna B. Foa, Terence M. Keane, Matthew J. Friedman, Judith A. Cohen
Publisher: The Guilford Press Pub Date: 10/24/2008
[v] Abused Children May Get Different Form of PTSD: Time Magazine, April 30 2013: http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/30/abused-children-may-get-different-form-of-ptsd/
[vi] Biofield Science and Healing: An Emerging Frontier in Health and Medicine, Chopra, Jain, Muehsam, Hammerschlag, et al. Huffington Post, November 23, 2015
[vii] Measurement of the Human Biofield and Other Energetic Instruments B. Rubik from website of Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine, Loveland Colorado
[ix] The Catalyst of Power, 3rd Edition J. Whale, DragonRising Publishing, UK 2009
[x] Healing the Root of Pain, D. Starwynn, Desert Heart Press 2013