We’ve heard of people gaining sympathy weight when their partner is pregnant and the placebo effect surrounding medications. Now, research suggests that those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can transfer their anxious and debilitating feelings to those around them as well. Whether you are a family member, friend, or therapist, empathy may cause you to take on some of the burdens associated with PTSD. Before you know it, you may be experiencing some of the same symptoms as a person diagnosed with PTSD. Let’s take a look behind the science of contagious PTSD and what you can do ease these symptoms.
The 9/11 Effect and PTSD
The idea of transferring PTSD from individual to caretaker can be traced back 15 years to September 11, 2001. A meta-analysis that looked at the long-term ramifications of that fateful day found that up to 42% of first responders from that day have experienced a battle with PTSD.
Furthermore, the attacks on 9/11 led to cases of PTSD across areas highly exposed to the events. That means just learning about the attacks and processing the information elevated levels of this condition among communities.
Analyses on post-9/11 PTSD cases found that:
- Three years later: 8% of New York City transit workers experienced PTSD
- Three years later: 12.4% of rescue workers experienced PTSD
- Five years later: 29.6% of adolescents experienced PTSD
- Ten years later: 15% of World Trade Center evacuees experienced PTSD
Whether it was evacuees battling “survivor’s guilt,” children recalling scary images on the television of people jumping out of the World Trade Center, or responders who worked hard to save the lives of others, 9/11 left a lasting mark on many.
These long-lasting effects created a victim of many, including those who were not at Ground Zero the day of the attacks. However, many who heard the stories of those who did survive and what they lived through may have contagious cases of PTSD.
How to Catch PTSD
Contagious PTSD is also known as “secondary” PTSD. Researchers coined the condition with this name because not everyone who experiences PTSD went through an actual traumatic event themselves. Like many therapists, first responders, and family members have learned, the horrific firsthand experiences of those who live through a tragedy can bleed over into the caregivers’ lives.
One clinical psychologist who helped survivors work through the horrible events of 9/11 began developing panic attacks. Researchers indicate that playing what happened on 9/11 over and over again in their heads can cause psychologists to envision the same memories their patients experience. Coupled with the widespread news coverage of this historic day, many psychologists who helped 9/11 victims replay the day as if they were there themselves.
The reason psychologists experience this phenomenon is due to the human’s mental ability to feel empathy. First, we know the sights and sounds of 9/11. We’ve all seen documentary footage of people fleeing the streets, miles of dust covering the atmosphere, and the buildings crumbling to their foundations. It’s not hard to recall those sights from television stories alone. Unfortunately, caregivers must also piece together what transpired through the minds of those who personally lived through the attacks.
Hearing firsthand accounts of a traumatic experience can cause the person listening to put themselves in the shoes of the speaker. The listener already has the images of 9/11 in their head like a slideshow. Now, the speaker’s emotions trigger the caregiver’s mind to feel the way the speaker did at that moment. Through this empathy, caregivers understand why one person may be petrified of an elevator or become anxious inside of a building when they’re multiple stories up.
Secondary PTSD Beyond 9/11
9/11 isn’t the only case where people can transfer their PTSD onto others. We’re just using this widely-known event to paint a picture of how secondary PTSD can infiltrate the lives of others.
Research on secondary PTSD found that these symptoms can also have a lasting effect on:
That’s right, even those who merely research PTSD may actually end up experiencing some of the symptoms of the disorder themselves. Let’s see why this happens.
Why Does Secondary PTSD Happen?
A significant reason why caregivers experience PTSD has to do with how the mind processes information. When you read a book, you create a mini-movie inside of your mind. You have a vision of what the characters should look like and are extremely vocal when the actual movie is made and doesn’t match your preconceived idea.
These same sort of sensations happen when you listen to someone talk about a scary experience they lived through. The reason the caregivers have a difficult time disassociating between a real memory and an imagined image is much in thanks to how our brains are wired.
There are overlaps in areas of the brain responsible for visual imagery and visual experience. Therefore, if you imagine a traumatic event enough, your mind may etch these images into your hippocampus. Recalling these events frequently (like therapists have to do when treating their patients), can cause the lines of fiction and reality to blur in the brain.
Secondary PTSD and PTSD
What makes PTSD such a unique disorder is that it can also trigger past bouts of PTSD in caregivers. This sensation is especially hard for family members. While therapists do experience high levels of secondary PTSD, they are trained with coping capabilities. Therefore, they can process the growth of secondary PTSD much more effectively than an everyday mom or husband.
If a mother is helping her daughter process a sexual assault, the mother may start to suffer from PTSD episodes she may have dealt with in the past. Doctors who have survived a car accident in their life may clam up in the presence of a car accident victim. Someone who has lived through a school shooting may have a hard time sitting through a newscast about the latest statistics.
As humans, we long to connect with others. We find similarities in interests, experiences, food preferences, music choices, and favorite movies. In these moments of connectivity, we bring our own experiences forward. This practice can be detrimental for those who have suffered PTSD in the past or are on the precipice of developing secondary PTSD.
Studies suggest that up to 20% of people who help someone with PTSD will experience secondary PTSD themselves. That’s a lot of people who are suffering in the name of helping others. How can you help somebody else if you can’t help yourself? This is why it’s so important to break the cycle of secondary trauma.
How to Stop Secondary PTSD
For those who already have secondary PTSD, you are not a lost cause. Just as caregivers lend an ear to their patients, they also need to let off some steam. Talk about your problems with a trained professional to devise a plan of coping mechanisms.
In addition, try taking on activities that will help you cope with fear and stress. Blow off steam by working out, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep. Lastly, make sure your body is set up for success. The most effective way to achieve this is through all-natural supplements.
Products like Tranquilene have an abundance of ingredients that can help ease anxieties caused by PTSD. One of the main active ingredients in Tranquilene is L-theanine. This essential amino acid has shown to increase GABA activity in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that exhibits relaxative capabilities.
The addition of tryptophan further enhances the formula. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our bodies convert to 5-HTP before turning into serotonin. Lastly, Tranquilene contains three essential nutrients that are not only linked to improved mental health, but are also lacking in the typical Western diet. With Tranquilene, your body gets a hefty dose of vitamin D3, vitamin B complex, and magnesium. These are all catalysts for brain-boosting powers, cellular functions, and overall wellness.
Reclaim Your Life without Secondary PTSD
Whether you’re a concerned family member, worn-out first responder, or overworked therapist, you can develop secondary PTSD. Empathy is a powerful tool and can start to wear down on our everyday lives. That is why it’s important to talk to someone if you are experiencing symptoms of secondary PTSD.
Our minds can confuse reality with conjured images and blur the lines between concentrating on the task at hand to falling into your own PTSD-riddled past. Try alleviating the stress on the onset with small doses of cortisol. From there, make lifestyle changes to ensure your body and mind are as healthy as possible. Lastly, give your brain the mental boost it needs to get through trying times. All-natural supplements like Tranquilene can go a long way in reversing the development of secondary PTSD.