Did you know that you can develop PTSD just by hearing people’s stories? People who work with people (even just over the phone) are at an increased risk of developing PTSD due to the accumulation of daily experiences of listening to others. This includes mental health providers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, reiki masters, and one of the least served populations…911 dispatchers.
How does listening to stories create PTSD? The amygdala’s sole purpose is to keep you alive in this very moment. It sets off the alarm in the body indiscriminately. Input comes into the brain and depending on our experiences throughout life, the amygdala will activate or not. How many of you get anxious, even just more alert, when going into a parking garage, especially at night? How many of you have been personally hurt in a garage? The reason you get anxious is because of the stories you’ve heard on TV, in books, other’s experiences. These stories get stored in your brain so when you go into a garage, the amygdala remembers the experiences and responds as if your life is in danger, setting off the alarm. As another example, how many of you had parents that told you to go out and play, and had no idea where you were during that time; they just expected that you’d be home for dinner? How many of you now have your own kids and allow them to do that? Not as many of you allow that, right? It is because of the input from news and other sources that tell us the world is dangerous. We have more exposure to these stories than our parents or their parents.
Getting back to the point, the brain stores the stories/experiences we have (both personal and not). If they are life threatening, they get stored in a way that will activate the amygdala. Remember that the amygdala’s sole purpose is to keep you alive right here, right now. Mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death. After the amygdala does it’s job of setting off the alarm, the hippocampus surveys the environment telling is that this story is not ours, but the story of the person on the phone or sitting next to us. If the amygdala activates, the body goes into fight/flight mode due to the release of cortisol or adrenaline. Then this story gets stuck in our brain. If the brain doesn’t know how to make sense of the situation or how to put it to rest, it will keep the situation open with full sensory detail. The brain believes that if it stores this information in full sensory detail, it will protect you better next time. Think about this – if you’re a woman with children and you remembered your pregnancy with full sensory detail, would you have a second child? Likely not. The brain puts this to rest. It does not need to “protect” you from childbirth. The amygdala does not sort out your story or mine which is why we jump to scary movies. The amygdala responds. The hippocampus THEN responds telling is this is just a movie. This happens so quickly, consciously we are unaware of it.
Depending on your experiences, and your brain’s individual ability to make sense of experiences, everyone will respond differently to situations. You are not weak. Nothing is wrong with you as a 911 dispatcher or a therapist suffering from the effects of PTSD. These effects will be the same as someone who went through the traumatic event personally. Strength lies in knowing this is normal and reaching out for help. Reaching out will help you regain control of yourself, your emotions, and your reactions thus regaining control of your life, career and family.
Many therapists will be able to help you, but who is right for you? If have a blog (here) which is a good next read for you to help you choose what to look for in a therapist. I am also here to help you in any way. Please call or email me for more information or to schedule a time to talk. 860-501-9767; 941-462-4807; firstname.lastname@example.org.