Holistic Treatments for PTSD
Treating post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. PTSD manifests in different ways for different people, and at times, the healing journey can feel complicated, confusing, and downright disheartening. But studies show that incorporating complementary therapies into the treatment of PTSD can prove very effective一and what’s more, there are a wide variety of treatments, so there’s something for everyone.
When Trauma gets stuck
PTSD is a diagnosis that covers a range of symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts, panic, and anxiety一these are the result of trauma getting ‘stuck’ in the body after a shocking or distressing event. When someone experiences PTSD, the nervous system hasn’t received the message that it is now safe, even long after the traumatic experience occurred. Overcoming the effects of trauma that manifest as PTSD is a holistic process; the body is just as important as the mind, because they are part of the same unit sending millions of signals back and forth every minute of the day. Complementary therapies like the ones detailed below are designed to soothe the nervous system and create space for the body to feel safe, held, and able to heal.
1. Move through it with yoga therapy
Yoga provides a framework for being with the body in a gentle, compassionate way. One of the distressing impacts of PTSD can be a disconnection with and distrust of the body, and yoga is a great way to come back into harmony一with the added benefits of building strength and flexibility, both physically and emotionally. A 2014 study that offered PTSD sufferers one weekly yoga class over a course of 10 weeks found that their symptoms were significantly reduced. The authors concluded that the practice increased emotional awareness and resilience in participants. More vigorous styles like a Vinyasa flow class or Ashtanga can be great for discharging excess energy when feeling antsy and anxious, while gentler styles like Hatha or Yin are good for slowing down the pace, relaxing, creating a sense of calm, or even finding some emotional release. It’s worth trying different styles and even teachers to find the one that feels right for you.
2. Build mindfulness with a meditation program
Managing and treating PTSD with a regular meditation practice has gained a lot of traction within the medical community. A review of studies into complementary therapies for the treatment of PTSD found that meditation was one of the best holistic practices for improving nervous system function and prefrontal cortex activity, and building emotional awareness, detachment, and acceptance. If you are daunted by the idea of meditating, especially in a group setting, there are plenty of apps that can guide complete beginners in establishing a practice, and debunk the myths about what meditation involves. Even a few minutes a day can have a positive impact, and getting started has never been more accessible. Other meditative practices that are just as effective include sound healing and breathwork (also known as pranayama), both of which take the focus away from the mind.
3. Shift the energy with Reiki
Reiki is a traditional Japanese practice that works with the energy body. It’s a good option for PTSD sufferers that might not be comfortable with being touched, as Reiki is gentle and mainly practiced without physical contact. The Reiki practitioner will focus on restoring flow along the body’s energy meridians – established channels of Qi, or life-force, in Traditional Chinese Medicine – to shift anything that is stuck energetically or spiritually (i.e. trauma). Through this method, emotional blockages can be released, and then processed.
4. Shake it out with TRE
Trembling, or tremoring, is a natural physical response to trauma. Think about how animals shake when fireworks are let off: It’s one of the many tools the body has to discharge the rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that flood the system in preparation for fight or flight. But with PTSD, the nervous system is constantly being reactivated without completing the cycle. Tension & Trauma Release Exercise (TRE) was developed by Dr. David Berceli as a way to generate neurogenic tremoring in a safe and supported framework. Just one session of the practice can dissipate tension throughout the body and bring the nervous system back down to its baseline.
5. Muscle up with massage therapy
Tightness in the muscles is a common symptom of tension held in the body due to stuck trauma. Massage relieves this tension – which can end up causing pain and stiffness in the joints – as well as sending messages of safety and relaxation to the mind and body. Studies have found it to be very effective in the treatment of PTSD.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: A Systematic Review; Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the DSM-5: Controversy, Change, and Conceptual Considerations.
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