Part 3 |Post Traumatic Stress Disorder | What Happens in the Brain to Cause PTSD?

This is the third in a series of short blogs and video’s about post traumatic stress disorder. Today we are looking at what happens in the brain to cause PTSD. Watch the youtube demonstration about the three main parts of the brain that are involved in causing PTSD. 9.30 minutes, Here is a quick overview of the information in the video.

In a nutshell, PTSD occurs when your brain over remembers an unpleasant event and keeps reminding you of it. How does it do that? Ok so we humans have evolved brains that have a special capacity for learning, remembering and reminding us – so that we don’t spend all of our lives having to re think how to make a cup of tea, swim or recognize words. Now this is a great thing but in our modern world when it comes to remembering things that have caused anxiety, this process can go off track and cause problems.

Lets look at the three parts of your brain that are involved in this remembering and reminding process and can go on to cause PTSD.

Neo cortex is the newest part of the brain and yet it is about 60 million years old. The neo cortex is the large part of your brain mass just behind your forehead and is responsible for the higher level functions in human beings like empathy and strategic thinking.
Its polar opposite is the Amygdale which is one of the oldest parts of the brain, its main function is to prepare us for fight or flight in the face of any potential threat. So when an event, a thought or a person becomes a perceived threat, the sense of fear alerts the amygdale which orders your adrenals to flood you with cortisol and adrenalin, making you really strong in case you need to fight something or run fast to escape the situation.
The Hippocampus is the memory gate for the brain, for anything to reach long term memory like new ideas and new learning it has to go through the hippocampus.

So how do these three things operate to cause and maintain PTSD? Lets look at the amygdale first.

The amygdale tags events with emotions and has a brilliant memory. The amygdale will try to store information that has caused anxiety to be produced, now that can be anything from a person who has been a bit of a bully at work to a major accident or physical attack. The amygdale stores this information in the form of our sensory perception, so that is sight, sound, scent, hearing and touch.

That information can lay pretty dormant until a future time when the amygdale senses that there is potentially something similar in your environment
 to the things that it has remembered – then it goes on red alert and makes your adrenals fire of the chemicals to take you into the fight or flight so that you can run fast or fight hard.

This is a brilliant reaction in the face of real danger but if that happens on the way to taking the kids to school in the morning, or the middle of a shopping mall when everything is fine – it causes a person to be suddenly thrown in to a high state of panic. An example of this might be a person who had been beaten up badly, they might be at a party when someone they are talking to raises their arm to wave to a friend and that person could feel a wave of panic. That’s the amygdale mistaking the persons arm above their head as a potential threat.

The same goes for the soldiers with battle trauma, which is another word for PTSD caused during military action. Once a pattern is in the amygdale any sight sound etc that is reminiscent of the traumatic event can spark off massive anxiety. An example here would be a solider walking down the street and then being flooded with panic after hearing a car backfiring, seeing blood from a child’s grazed knee or hearing a helicopter overhead. This can happen at any time even at night as the brain tries to resolve these messages of high alert through dreaming. This is the cause of many distressing symptoms of PTSD.

All of these reactions precede rational thought and happen at a level way below consciousness and that is why it is almost impossible to think your way out of the panic. Anyone who believes you just need to get a grip is just not understanding that old and instinctive part of your brain is causing this and will bypass rational thought.

PTSD can happen to anyone; about twenty percent of people who are exposed to trauma will go on to develop PTSD. For those who don’t develop it the trauma will be remembered by the amygdale but over a period of days or weeks will gradually loose its anxiety tags and the hippocampus will let it through to the neo-cortext where it can be accessed as a memory but will not activate anxiety.

In our forth podcast and blog we let you know the two important element in the rewind that make this technique so safe, quick and effective in lifting PTSD

If you would like to train in the rewind technique there are two main options

1. Face to face with Within Sight’s trainers: we hold a one-day course and the next one is Friday 9th September in Hove/Brighton. Check it out here Learn the rewind
2. Along with Uncommon Knowledge trainer Mark Tyrrell, Jill delivers an on line course which starts on September 8th. Learn the rewind

If you want to find a therapist who has been professionally trained to use the rewind in a client session, email us on let us know where you live and we will do our best to help you find someone to help you.

Read the last post in the series here.

Not read any other posts? Start from the beginning here.

Jill Wootton (47 Posts)