We are all familiar with the moment our favourite lead character is shown to have a memory back to a horrifying moment from their past, or from earlier on in the series equating to their psychological state and unravelling storyline.
This is PTSD, known as post-traumatic stress disorder. There are increasing media representations of PTSD, but what exactly is it?
PTSD is an after effect of a traumatic event that has the potential to last months or years, often associated with soldiers, the rest of us are not exempt.
Traumatic events are overwhelming and frightening experiences, like being involved in an assault, witnessing an accident or attack. For some life carries on unaffected, whilst others are subject to psychological symptoms of grief, depression, guilt, shame and blame and specific to PTSD flashbacks and nightmares; avoidance and numbing; and hypervigilance, being constantly on alert.
Physical effects of irregular heartbeats, diarrhoea and pains are often occurrent with PTSD as a result of the continued activation of the fight, flight response.
A flashback of the traumatic memory will induce the same physiological responses as at the time of the traumatic experience itself.
Then the less commonly known complex-PTSD (cPTSD) is suffered when individuals suffer repeated severe neglect or abuse.
In addition to PTSD symptoms, cPTSD has symptoms of difficulties with regulating emotions; distrust towards the world; feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness as if they are damaged goods; feeling alienated; avoiding interpersonal relationships; suicidality and dissociative symptoms.
Dissociation is literally ‘ignorance is bliss’ in psychology terms with your brain disconnecting from the trauma and associated memories, feelings and identity, acting in self-preservation from the psychological turmoil.
This further creates difficulties with symptoms of amnesia, detachment to yourself and your emotions with a loss of self, a distorted perception of those and the world around you.
For some it’s a natural response to trauma, others decide to tune-out (this is often found with children) and for those with schizophrenia, bipolar and borderline personality disorder it’s a symptom of their disorder.
Trauma fundamental changes us, from the hardwiring of our brain to the bodies responses, operating from an instinctive drive in the face of trauma.
We are familiar with the four Fs- fighting, fleeing, feeding and f(love)-ing; fighting and fleeing are geared up in trauma and freezing can also occur. The reptilian brain, a drive in our survival, activates shutting down non-essential processes to conserve energy, the nervous system releases a flood of stress hormones to prepare the body in particular cortisol.
Cortisol prepares the body for its chosen method of survival, the vagus nerve sending signals to the heart, lungs and stomach, creating that feeling we get when we are in the grips of fear (for those who fear nothing, let me know how, for others with acrophobia or ophidiophobia (an evolutionary rationalised fear) will be all too familiar with this feeling.)
Generally, we sense danger, and no it’s not a sixth sense or the Illuminati (associated with the reptilian brain), its an innate instinct and further taught to us by our caregivers, aiding the development of part of our autonomic nervous system.
Mirror neurons aid this learning process with mimicry and in the development of empathy (if you are on the Autistic Disorder spectrum this may be more difficult), these handy neurons guide our perception and action.
Its mirror neurons that enable us to interpret individuals’ intentions or make us wince when someone gets hurt (unless it’s our sibling or best mate falling over, then we malfunction and laugh).
Consider walking home at night and a large, conspicuous hooded hulk of an individual approaches, alarm bells go off, you cross the road or your heart rate increases, and you hope to pass them unbothered, with wallet and limbs intact.
When someone approaches you in a bar we can sense their intentions and that niggle of your partners infidelity, this particular one is a paradox as we generally trust the person we love and therefore what they say, yet our instinct is flagging up something else putting us into conflict.
This conflict is particularly difficult in differentiating for individuals who have been abused by their care giver and by partners, the very people we look for love and security, are the very people who risk that safety and neglect us.
The potentiation of this can result in the dysregulated response occurrent with PTSD; overactivated amygdala, resulting in hypervigilance, underactive hippocampus, restricting consolidation of what has happened to put it as a past event resulting in the continued heightened preparation of flight or fight and finally the continued elevation of stress hormones.
There are a number of therapies that aid PTSD for some medication aids the turning down of heightened responses, likely the combination of medication and therapeutic techniques may be suitable.
Therapies include eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing, cognitive processing therapy and other cognitive therapeutic frameworks providing individuals with an opportunity to rationalise what has happened and gain skills to thrive and move out of survival mode.
Other holistic techniques engaging writing therapy to come to terms with what has happened; art therapy as an alternative expression; and yoga to get back into your body, effective for individuals who have experienced sexual and physical abuse and have disconnected with their bodies.
Trauma is attributable to the development of mental health difficulties and physical ill-health, finding individuals who experienced traumas in childhood, known as adverse childhood effects (ACEs) have increased mortality from heart disease, chronic lung disease and other health management.
Individuals working in professions dealing with traumatic events (paramedics, police and emergency services) or those dealing with disturbing details of forensic cases all are susceptible.
The outing of trauma can often result in a post-truth wake and can incur in mental health, especially in light of the shame and blame associated, particularly in the #metoo movement and clergy sexual abuse causes.
This is the tip of an iceberg that may explain and be a precursor in the development of mental health difficulties and physical health.
For further reading check out Dr van de Kolk, who articulates trauma beautifully, advocating building trust with patients and the holistic alternatives from a one pill fix, find it here.
Self-care has definitely had a moment in 2018. Social media platforms are regularly awash with images of people wearing facemasks, eating chocolate or reading a book in a candlelit nook, paired with the #self-care hashtag. Taking small moments like this to take stock and recharge, has become something many people shout about online, and quite rightly so.
In recent years, we have been working longer and harder, with growing to do lists and never-ending tasks to complete, places to be and people to catch up with. With this culture growing, self-care is now more than ever, an essential part of survival.
However, many people have become so accustomed to this fast-paced world, that it feels almost impossible to know where to begin with taking time out to do things just for the pure joy of it. This is where the online presence of self-care in action can have a positive effect.
Self-care & Social Media
With 8.3 million people sharing the #self-care hashtag on Instagram, it is clear that there is a growing understanding of just how important it is. Taking time out to look after ourselves and recharge has become something people are proud to both advocate and demonstrate, meaning there is less stigma or guilt around self-care.
It has also created a space for discussion around what we need to achieve and maintain good mental health and life balance, and to feel safe in asking for these things from employers, relatives or partners.
One of the main concerns amidst the growing popularity of the #self-care hashtag is that it can contribute to an already dangerous environment where social media platforms are used as a tool for comparison, rather than connection.
Trending buzzwords can create acceptance and change but can just as easily breed feelings of inferiority and exclusivity. This goes against some of the core notions of self-care, in that, it can be mentally harmful to compare ourselves to others and feel we do not measure up.
Self-care looks different for everyone. For some it means alone time, for others, it might mean socialising with friends. Taking a bath, saying no to an invite, or eating a favourite food are all examples of making time to purely care for ourselves and no one else.
What Self-care Really Means
Not to be confused with ‘treating yourself’ or a spa day, self-care can be as big or small, cheap or costly, quiet or raucous as you need it to be. There is no one size fits all and we each deserve a self-care routine that works for us and our life.
Making time for ourselves in this way is not something that comes naturally to some, in fact, many people feel guilt around self-care and think it is selfish to put themselves first.
Going a little deeper, however, it can be argued that self-care is actually an important part of caring and supporting others. After all, if we are not making time to care for ourselves and keep ourselves well, how can we possibly expect to do this for others?
Motivation is a strange concept, we can feel motivated to do a number of different things, but often we don’t fully see them through.
Often, we might think we are motivated to complete a task, and yet struggle when things get too difficult or when we fail.
The truth is, there are loads of things they we wish we were doing, but often we don’t undertake them or push forward to achieve them, but why is this?
The first thing we need to consider is a change in our language.
Something we would like to do is vastly different from something we want to do. It is the dichotomy of true desire and passive thought.
If we truly want something, then we are much more likely to go out and get it. So, the first point of call when assessing and developing our self-motivation is to think, is what I am working towards something I really want, or something I would like to do?
If it’s the later, then there’s a bit of an issue.
Perhaps thinking about who you are doing this for, what you might gain from achieving it, or how far you have come already will aid you in developing your ‘would like’ into a ‘want’.
The next thing for you to consider is to question yourself, are you scared to progress forward in your life?
Ron Siegel from Harvard University gives a cognitive neuroscientific perceptive here. He says that we are hard-wired to continuously expect danger in new situations.
That fundamentally means changes, or new circumstances, elicit feelings of anxiety and concern before they elicit feelings of anticipation or excitement.
Therefore, it is likely that the first thing we do will be to highlight the potential for failure, or harm to ourselves when undertaking something new. This can be really difficult when developing a sense of self-motivation.
So how do we combat this?
Well, it might sound simple, but focusing on the positive and the opportunity over the chance of failure is what is key here.
If we highlight the chance of failure instead of seeing the positive possibilities in a new task or venture, then we are much less likely to be motivated to push forward and achieve what we want, especially if and when times get hard.
So, focus on the potential positive opportunity rather than the chance of failure!
Perhaps this can be better highlighted with an example that I’m sure you can appreciate.
I have a friend who smokes and keeps attempting to stop. Time and time again he says, ‘this is my last one’ or ‘I really would like to give this up’ (again we are back to ‘would like to’ and ‘want to’ from earlier).
However, he always returns to smoking, making some lame excuse as to why he hasn’t given up, or he just ignores people altogether when he is pulled up about it.
He lacks self-motivation and can’t seem to stop.
Fundamentally, this is because the focus is with the fear of pain that he might experience in quitting, as opposed to the massive positive impact it could have on his life. He focusses on the difficulty he will experience in trying to quit, rather than the potential health improvements.
The cravings etc. are what the immediate effects would be, the health improvements are much further down the line and require discipline to progress through the negative effects of quitting smoking.
This is fundamentally what he struggles with, and is a perfect example of someone who focusses on the potential for failure, rather than the opportunity for positive success in the long run.
What makes this even more prominent and what makes it even harder for people to become self-motivated is a fixation on immediate reward, rather than long-term and sustainable gain.
Short-term immediate gain over longer sustainable and more profound gain is what stops people from being motivated in the future.
It’s what makes people stick to a job they hate rather than quit, take a pay cut and start a business of their own.
It’s what makes people go to parties rather than study for upcoming exams that will inevitably improve their future.
So, what can we possibly do about this?
My first piece of advice here would be to write out all the potential failures and successes you might experience as a result of doing what you desire.
Then, attempt to fully emotionally engage with them, experience how it would feel to fail and to succeed at what you want to do.
If we use our previous example, try and emotionally engage with the challenges and difficulties of going through cravings when quitting smoking. Then engage with how it would feel to be healthier and fitter as a result.
By experiencing the emotions as in-depth as we can, we, in turn, develop our awareness and expectations of what might happen if we fail and if we succeed.
I’m willing to bet that if you fully engage with this, then the joy of succeeding and getting what you want will be so enticing that you’ll become much more self-motivated to take that leap.
So, after all of this, how do we know if we are self-motivated or not?
Well, all you really have to do is ask yourself these 4 questions:
Can you do it?
Do you really want it?
Will it work?
Is it worth it?
If you answer yes to all of these above questions, then consider yourself self-motivated…congratulations!!!
Self-motivation is not something we are born with, nor is it something that we just stumble across one day.
It is something we work on.
Don’t be disheartened when you fail or you procrastinate, what matters is that you seek to develop your self-motivation as much as possible on a daily basis.
With this understanding and applying these tips, you’ll be well on your way!
Also, be sure to stay up to date with my YouTube channel GetPsyched as self-motivation and the development of self-motivation is something I’ll look at in the coming weeks. You can subscribe and hit the bell next to the subscribe button to get reminders of when I upload!
It’s that time of year when students are about to embark on new ventures and discoveries in university. For some, this experience will be the first of its kind for them, for others, this will be a second attempt, for some, it will be a jump into the unknown as they take on a postgraduate degree that they’re not completely sure they can manage. At one time or another, I have been all three of these examples. In my undergraduate degree, I embarked on a social sciences course, I came back to try my hand at psychology and currently I am enrolled in a counselling psychology doctoral programme. The journey is long, demanding and requires a great amount of fortitude, resilience and dedication. As I will always say though, it is worth it. I love psychology, I love what I do and for those of you starting out on your journey in psychology I wish you all the best and hope you find a passion in this wonderful area of work and research. For those of you developing in masters or doctoral programmes in psychology, perhaps you have found your passion and have realised that psychology can be a pathway to a rewarding career. Either way, I hope these 3 tips for those of you conducting or starting your post-graduate degrees in psychology will be helpful:
Organisation is vital, being able to stay on top of placement, studies, classes, work and family life is a juggling act that you can’t guess your way through, you need to be organised with it. I cannot stress the importance of having a daily diary in this case. Plan out your day the night before and structure when you are going to do what. Maybe you have a reflective essay due in a month, but at the same time, you need to be at placement and contact a tutor about some questions you have over your lecture notes last week. Stay on top of organising your days and weeks, don’t just hope these things will get done, plan them!
The ability to show initiative is a skill that I have realised, from experience and observation, not many students possess. Yes, degrees are taxing, and postgraduate degrees are very taxing, but if you can plan ahead and take advantage of opportunities then you put yourself in an incredible position for development, both academically and professionally. This could come in the form of starting essays early, even essays you have due six months away, if you have the time now then use it, you’ll realise how valuable that time is later down the road. For example, you may know that you can’t start placement until later in the year, once you are cleared by your university. However, perhaps you could contact some placement providers, inform them you won’t be able to start until later in the year, but ask if they would consider you for placement. This, in turn, could lead to you having a placement a soon as you are cleared, whilst others only start the process after their university allows them to begin placement.
if you have the time now then use it, you’ll realise how valuable that time is later down the road
Self-care comes in many different forms and may look totally different from one person to the next. Setting time aside each day to do something that assists you looking after yourself in a postgraduate psychology degree is imperative. For some this might be chatting to a friend, it might be meditation, it might be reading (if you can stomach more of it). For me, self-care means contrast. In my studies and work, I do a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of analysis, and try to show as much compassion and empathy as I can. In contrast, I like to take time out to go to the gym and release all the tension I experience throughout the day with a lifting session. As I say, self-care may look totally different than this to you, this might be your idea of torture. Whatever your way of taking care of yourself looks like, make an effort to partake in it.
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