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An extremely interesting study on Survivors of the Japan Tsunami has shown the dramatic effect Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has on our brains. If you have survived a traumatic event (or a series of traumatic events), this study shows the damage to the brain after a traumatic event can be seen, and even better, can be healed. 

This study compared the brain scans of 42 adolescents 2 years before the Tsunami and their brains after the tsunami, and the brains were significantly smaller. The main area involved in the changes was the orbitofrontal cortex, which is the main area we use for decision making and emotional regulation. This area is also referred to in addiction studies as the "Stop Switch". When people struggle with addiction (or PTSD) this switch gets damaged and they have an extremely difficult time feeling satisfied and just want more and more relief.

Many people who have never experienced PTSD don't understand how crazy it can make you feel. There are so many overwhelming and intense symptoms such as anxiety, depression, avoidance of triggering stimuli, substance abuse and hyper-vigilance (being overly vigilant about relatively innocuous things) among others.
Most people I have spoken to with PTSD acknowledge their symptoms and explain symptoms are not "logical" reactions to present stimuli. Their reactions are based on previous trauma, but are "locked in" even when the trauma has passed. For example, Japanese Tsunami survivors might avoid the coastline, and if they see a picture of the ocean they may have a panic attack. In this situation, the person would feel insecure and "crazy" because they had a panic attack brought on by a picture, and not actual threat.
I think we can look at this study in a few ways. Some might think this just shows how damaging trauma can be and how difficult it can be to recover from PTSD. I choose to think of this information with a focus on solutions. Knowing that the brain has shrunk in certain areas, we can do exercises to strengthen and build up those areas.
Therapy that focuses on coping strategies and healthy decision making will help build these areas of the brain up again. If brain studies have shown us anything, it's how plastic our brains our and how they can heal even after horrendous damage.
Link to article below. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments below!


- Jenny

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash