If you've been following me over the last few weeks, you know that I introduced the idea of incorporating the Principles of War as a means of dealing with PTSD. In doing this, my hope is to help you achieve a deeper level of thought about how you might go about choosing methods for your healing. By introducing a single Principle of War, in a series of posts over the next several weeks, I am giving you a new set of criteria that you can use to evaluate the possible courses of action that you choose for your healing journey.
I realize it may sound a bit counter productive to use war principles for healing an anxiety disorder, but allow me the opportunity over the next few weeks to expand this thought and see if this might apply to you or someone you know that might be working to rid their life of this disorder. If you continue to follow this series, you can save time with future posts by going directly to the bold text highlighting the week's highlighted Principle. This week we look at the principle of:
Maneuver - Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power.
Getting a handle on PTSD can initially seem like an overwhelming project. Don't get me wrong, I am not here to suggest it will be easy. What I am saying is that it can be done. In true Warrior Life Coach fashion, I will tell you that when you have a large project at hand, the best way to approach this seemingly overwhelming challenge, is to start by breaking it down into smaller steps. I think this is particularly important when we are thinking about Maneuver, because we want to move ourselves into a position of advantage over the main presentations of PTSD. With that said, let's ALL agree that the first step you need to take in gaining that advantage is that there is something wrong! You know something has changed about you and you recognize that it is causing you problems, but most importantly you want some help to deal with it! I say this in light of the latest Pentagon studythat was released in April of this year. This new report indicated that nearly 20 percent–or one in five returning war veterans–reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. The study also reports that only half of them sought treatment. So, if you are reading this blog and are looking for help, for yourself or someone close to you, I commend you on taking the first step to gaining an advantage over PTSD.
The Road Less Traveled
Because PTSD presents with so many different symptoms in so many different types of people, for so many different types of situations and exposures, it might be inappropriate for me to suggest that there is a clear second step. What I would like to propose is that we look at this part of our Maneuver as a triple fork in the road. The triple fork looks like this: one road takes us into Intrusive Symptoms, one road leads into Avoidance, and one road leads into Hyperarousal. These are the 3 major presentations that support a diagnosis of PTSD. Ultimately, we will have to walk all 3 roads, but by breaking them down we will gain the "high ground" on this enemy. You can pick any road you want to start with, but know that all will be covered. For writing purposes, let's start with Intrusive Symptoms.
In last week's blog, we briefly touched on the idea of focusing on the things that we can control in our day to day lives. The use of a To Do list can be a powerful ally in organizing our priorities and serving as a reminder of all we need to accomplish. Additionally, I'd like to suggest that you incorporate a calendar into your arsenal of productivity tools and use this as a way to record all of the commitments you make in your life. By commitments, I mean the promises of "time and attention" you make to other people. Appointments, scheduled phone calls, and interviews are a few examples of commitments to your time. The point here is not only to record them, but to honor them. By placing commitments of time in your day, you begin to create the available windows to accomplish your To Do list. By also adding an area into your planning tool for notes, you can begin to record many activities that over time, will help you identify your good days from your not-so-good days. Intrusive thoughts are most likely tied to patterns in your life or some reminding sensation, like a smell or sound. The point here is to have a means to record your thoughts, so you will be better prepared to walk the road of Avoidance.
Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma. It is natural to want to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions about a stressful event. But when avoidance is extreme, or when it’s the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing. Emotional avoidance is when a person avoids thoughts or feelings about a traumatic event. For example, a combat medic may try to force herself to think about other things whenever thoughts about death arise. Or, she may stop herself every time she begins to feel sadness about a warrior dying in her care, or focus on something else that makes her feel less sad. She may say things to herself like, "Don't go there," or "Don't think about it."
Avoiding reminders of a trauma is called behavioral avoidance. For example, a warrior may stop watching the news or reading the newspaper because of coverage of the war. Someone who lived in Manhattan might move out of the city after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Assault survivors might go out of their way to stay away from the scene of their attack. Not all avoidance is bad. It can be helpful to learn ways to focus your thoughts and feelings on things that are not related to the trauma. Distraction is a useful skill that can help you to get on with your daily life after a trauma. It can allow you to go to school or work, or buy groceries, even in the face of difficult life events. Although distraction and avoidance can be helpful in the short-term, they should not be your primary way of coping. Talking through your emotions with a trained counsellor can be extrememly beneficial here. Again, when you are planning and organizing your thoughts and activities, you can see how beneficial this can be to focus your mind on where you want it to go and how useful it serves as a
The final road used to Maneuver on PTSD covers the ground on hyper arousal. In my 3 part blog series Observations on Boiling Frogs, we covered a lot of ground regarding hyper arousal and as you may recall, we have spoken about the use of meditation for this condition. Now before you stop reading this, because you think the idea of just sitting still and concentrating is going to help you, let me first say that meditation is not a new idea when it comes to healing. Over the past 20 years there has been widespread interest in the use of meditation, with the most publicized and popular technique being Transendental Meditation which began with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1963. It appears that many persons use meditation to reduce physiological arousal, and because of its purported effects on arousal, meditation is used to treat numerous disorders which stem from or involve hyperarousal. For example, meditation has been used to treat hypertension, asthma, inflammation of the gums; drug abuse, alcohol abuse, insomnia, stuttering, and a variety of psychiatric disorders (Bloomfield et al. 1975; Glucck and Stroebel 1975). Furthermore, meditation has been suggested as an alternative to progressive muscle relaxation training. It also is emerging in the scientific community as a way to reshape our brains. A recently reported brain-scanning study has found evidence that sustained meditation alters the physical structure of the brain by increasing the thickness of the grey matter. The researchers, led by neuroscientist Sarah Lazar, scanned the brains of 20 people with long-term experience of meditation, and compared them with 20 other, non-meditating people. Brain regions associated with attention, sensation, perception and monitoring the body's internal state were thicker in meditation participants than in the comparison group.
When attempting to Maneuver on PTSD, a disorder that is quarterbacked through a region of the brain (amygdala) that creates quick and hasty behaviors, you need to harness the power of the brain region (pre frontal cortex) that is able to control the amygdala. This is the art of Maneuver; placing your strengths against your enemies weakness. You can accomplish this with mindful activities like: planning, journaling, talk therapy, and meditation. Additionally, Subconscious Restructuring® is a great process to incorporate into your healing regimen. To learn more about all these techniques, come visit me at www.warriorlifecoach.com.