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Mental health basics.

What everyone should know.

By Eva SmittePublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 3 min read
Mental health basics.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

I dreamt of a war a month or so ago. Not any particular war, more so the archetype itself, so this won’t be a political post feeding further the extreme division and polarisation we are witnessing once again in the society. Due to me being a mental health advocate, I feel I need to say something on the subject purely from a trauma informed perspective.

What I remember by now from the dream, is the feeling of despair and confusion; the inability to decide whether to run downstairs or upstairs in the attempt to save my life. As someone who looked into all things trauma education extensively due to myself having PTSD, albeit for very different reasons to war, I totally know what is occurring in the survival physiology of a human who is terrified. The prefrontal cortex shuts off, the limbic system is activated and the fight/flight/freeze response kicks in. Usually the fight/flight is the first one, followed by freeze in case of fighting or fleeing not being an option.

While we normally use the term ‘anxiety’ for the fight and flight response as well as the consequent hormonal cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline pulsing through our veins, I have to say that this is a very wide spectrum. During a mild anxiety episode one will be better equipped to deal with the situation at hand, during a severe one - less so. Which end of the spectrum a particular system falls on, is dependent on many factors, including but not limited to the presence or the absence of the history of childhood trauma such as abuse and neglect. According to Gabor Mate, people who emerge from military conflicts without PTSD, come from a lot more stable backgrounds compared to those who suffer the debilitating consequences of Post traumatic stress disorder.

On the flip side, those of us who grew up in a ‘war zone’ so to speak, albeit a different kind of, are a lot more likely to embark on a healing journey early on, and in time become a beacon of light for others. I certainly feel passionate about mental health awareness for the very reason of having gone through all kinds of initiations in this area myself.

By Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

Going back to the survival physiology aka nervous system activation, or even chronic nervous system dysregulation, what almost totally disappears, is the ability to reason. As briefly hinted earlier, that is the function of our prefrontal cortex, which as I mentioned earlier is switched off when we are extremely stressed. Why would this happen? Because on a pure biological level the priority is always the survival , not the ability to reason - something only we as humans have. The problem of course is that our modern life is a lot more nuanced than the wilderness where the fight, flight and freeze is enough to make it, or not make it alive out of a dangerous situation.

Our current lifestyles are a lot more complicated, for better or worse. And the inability to reason in a stressful situation, or during a trauma response activation aka being triggered , is something that I know first hand can create the additional stress. Applies to so many situations, the most recent one I can think of in my own life, is a difficulty when it comes to planning a certain journey after a sleepless night and a high amount of cortisol/fight and flight energy in my system, which allowed my brain and nervous system to shift into a dysregulated state. There are ways and tools to come out of it, given that one is even aware what is happening and why. In my experience people are very much ignorant though; I certainly was for many years.

By Emily Underworld on Unsplash

Why do I write about it all? While I don’t know how many people will develop PTSD (even 1 is way too many), and how many won’t as a result of yet another wave of a military conflict, nervous system/trauma education is essential in this day and age. I wish I knew twenty years ago what I know now, but it is what it is. Better later than never as they say, but the lack of understanding of my own body for so many years, only makes me more passionate about using my voice to bring the light of awareness where there wasn’t any for way too long.

Bottom line; if you or someone you know is struggling to think straight/sleep/function in the aftermath of any traumatic events, don’t jump into the conclusion that you/they are lazy, stupid or otherwise inadequate. Perhaps you can show support by encouraging them (or yourself) to seek professional help, as well as by learning more about the subject yourself. There is an enormous amount of trauma and nervous system education available online these days, and ignoring the need to learn about this element in the Information Age is a choice I’m afraid we cannot afford to make anymore.

therapytraumaselfcarerecoveryptsdpanic attacksanxiety

About the Creator

Eva Smitte

Writer, model, mental health advocate. Instagram @eva_smitte

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