Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental condition, having such symptoms as disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the traumatic events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid anything related to past traumas. There are medical therapies for PTSD, but scientists from UCL say that time heals as well.
Traumatic events are not easy to avoid completely – at some points in your life you may find yourself in a great deal if distress. Some people, however, are in a worse situation than others. Wars, personal tragedies, abuse and many other circumstances like that lead to a difficult state of mind. Scientists from UCL conducted a study, involving 85 participants, who were presented with emotionally negative videos. The scientists looked at what would help these people avoiding PTSD the most.
Half of the participants had to rest after watching those emotionally negative videos. The rest were subjected to a period of wakefulness, during which they were required to pay attention to numbers on a screen. And these videos were truly horrible, depicting injured people, accidents and other stress-inducing images. Then scientists had to see, which group experienced more of these negative memory intrusions, following the video. Scientists also tested whether participants are able to remember the video at all – avoiding PTSD is not about forgetting the events, it is about avoiding negative memory intrusions that reduce the quality of life.
Scientists found that participants from both groups were able to remember the video – the period of wakefulness or rest didn’t have a noticeable effect in that regard. However, those people from the group that rested following the viewing experienced fewer memory intrusions related to the videos over the following week. Scientists say that this is related to the fact that certain phases of sleep and rest in general are known to increase processing in the hippocampus, which helps placing memories in context. Other researches have shown that this help preventing memory intrusions in everyday life.
Professor Neil Burgess, senior author of the study, said: “The results show that specific brain systems could be targeted to reduce development of PTSD and may explain why treatments that focus on re-exposure and integrating the trauma with other information are beneficial”
Understanding the mechanisms behind PTSD can help preventing and treating it. Although more research needs to be done to formulate the best strategy for PTSD therapies, scientists can already recommend rest. If you ever find yourself in a traumatizing situation, try removing yourself from it and rest, instead of working. Sometimes time really does heal.