Updated: May 6
For years I've lived with and managed anxiety-like symptoms; heart racing, accelerated breathing, mind running a billion times a minute.. most days are fine but when something stressful comes along such as the current Corona Pandemic, like many people I experienced an adverse response. This period made me delve deeper into stress and how the body responds.. I've always wondered why I was so affected by stress. I thought, perhaps, I was just a sensitive person? It affected everyday life where some days were difficult to complete tasks, socialise, or caused problems in my relationships.
I then saw an integrative Doctor who gave me the medical label of PTSD to group everything together
and there was an answer. .
How does it affect a person? With trauma, or having a high ACE score (Adverse Childhood Events), you're more likely to develop a mental health condition as an adult, including a host of bodily dysfunction.
Stress and Fear activates the Amygdala part of the brain that's responsible for survival instincts, memories and emotions; it's switched on to keep you alive and has been passed down by your ancestors. Studies have shown prolonged stress exposure changes the size of the Amygdala to be more reactive - from past trauma to everyday stress such as traffic jams. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), the body's automatic response to dangerous or stressful situations (heart rate, body alertness, muscle blood dilation), gets frequently switched on; including Cortisol (hormone) release from the adrenals. With chronic stress exposure, the SNS becomes overactive, called Sympathetic Dominance.
An overactive SNS creates chaos long term in the body. I grew up feeling unsafe so my body cleverly developed short cuts for easy activation.
Some symptoms I experienced include: o Dysregulated Cortisol and heightened stress response
oConstant upper respiratory infections as a child (quickly handled with antibiotic overuse, which may have contributed to my Dysbiosis and Eczema). oHormonal and Thyroid issues due to HPA-Axis Dysfunction o Lose of appetite when busy or stressed (classic switching on SNS and off PNS [Parasympathetic Nervous System] needed for Rest-and-Digest.)
o Being a light sleeper (incase I had to jump out of bed in an Emergency. Conditions have to be perfect for me to sleep deeply. You're so fortunate if you can sleep like a log!)
o Falcon hearing (I can hear sounds very easily, often distracting or causes me to wake up)
o Overthinking, overanalysing, over-worrying, anxiety, panic attacks and breakdowns (this was much worse during high school and university - that academic pressure was tough!)
o Startled easily (jumping when someone sneaks up behind me, or when a train horn blows).
Although past events were unpleasant I can say with authenticity that I have learnt so much about holistic health and am able to connect with my patients because I understand. Most importantly I understand it's possible to get answers, to feel hopeful, and that a medical diagnosis is not a Life Sentence. I'm not saying this can be used as an excuse for accepting anti-social behaviour but rather gives insight into what's going on in the body on a physiological and biochemical level. An insight and ability to understand and work with the body, not against it.
A diagnosis is merely a name for a cluster of symptoms and guides you towards which direction to take.
My focus is getting out of SNS dominance and into PNS mode by:
Choosing good nutrition and supplementing properly (eg. Zinc, B6, Magnesium, Omega 3's)
Mindfulness practice such as meditation, breath work and journalling
Prioritising self care and taking time out
Improving mindset and self talk
Surrounding myself with empowering teachers, practitioners and loved ones
I'm fortunate I can treat my mental health using nutrition, lifestyle and trauma processing therapies without the need for pharmaceuticals, though I'm aware due to individual circumstances, medication may be necessary and life saving. Some people concerned with mental health may not feel equipped or supported enough to handle their symptoms in a healthy way. Don't give up and keep advocating for yourself.
Seek support in your mental health journey and find the right practitioner that listens and gives you more than just a pill. Where you are today has got a lot to do with your upbringing and though it has shaped you, it doesn't mean it's your identity; and you can choose to change. You are whole, you always have been. I hope by sharing my story has inspired you to seek support and to feel it's not all in your head, that there's more to it. It's whether you're ready to go forward into the light and out of the darkness. If you resonate with this post, feel free to connect with me on Facebook or Email. Stay well, Love Bonny ~
Disclaimer: This is my personal experience so my symptoms won't be the exact same as someone else's. This content is for informational purposes only. Consult your primary health practitioner for individualised care. References
Chapman, D. P., Dube, S. R., & Anda, R. F. (2007). Adverse childhood events as risk factors for negative mental health outcomes.Psychiatric Annals,37(5).
Heim, C., Nater, U. M., Maloney, E., Boneva, R., Jones, J. F., & Reeves, W. C. (2009). Childhood trauma and risk for chronic fatigue syndrome: association with neuroendocrine dysfunction.Archives of general psychiatry,66(1), 72-80. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Evans, K. C., Hoge, E. A., Dusek, J. A., Morgan, L., ... & Lazar, S. W. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala.Social cognitive and affective neuroscience,5(1), 11-17. Marik, P. E., & Zaloga, G. P. (2002). Adrenal insufficiency in the critically ill: a new look at an old problem.Chest,122(5), 1784-1796.
Schilling, E. A., Aseltine, R. H., & Gore, S. (2007). Adverse childhood experiences and mental health in young adults: a longitudinal survey.BMC public health,7(1), 30.