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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD 'Stress Cup Theory'



This theory was explained to me by my first trauma counsellor, and is a known theory within the PTSD field.


It explains why people with PTSD, cannot cope with the same amount of (brain) stress, as people without PTSD.


‘Brain Stress’ is anything the brain has to do for us to function.


This will include all we do subconsciously, like our internal organs working, breathing, moving, food digestion etc.


It also includes good and bad stress we deal with daily. Good stress, being anything the brain processes not causing negative emotions – eg taking a shower. Bad stress being anything that does cause negative emotions, like naughty children, noise (big PTSD stressors).


Diagram 1.


This shows the daily good stress, everyone’s brains deal with daily.


Diagram 2.


This shows the added bad stress, everyone deals with daily.


As you can see, there is still room left for added good or bad stress, before the cup ‘overflows’.


The cup ‘overflowing’ – will be when the person can’t cope emotionally and becomes irritable, angry, tearful etc.


Diagram 3.


This shows the added PTSD brain ‘stress’ – a PTSD brain is dealing with – added to all the normal good and bad stress everyone has.


There is very little room left for any added good or bad stress, to occur.


Which is why people with PTSD don’t cope well, with added stress and can get very irritable, fast and quickly over minor things.


This is described a being when the ‘cup overflows’. In order to reduce this overflowing, no stress can be occurring, so the ‘cup empties’ a little, back to having room for daily stress again.


I know when my cup is overflowing, as I start to become irritable, and I know my coping capacity, reduces, quickly and stressors like noise, irritate me more than normal.


I have learned to reduce my daily activities, have relaxing time, and not plan too many things in one day.


I have learned to have relaxation time before anything anxiety/stress raising, and have relax time afterwards.


Along with all the breathing, mindfulness strategies, this is how I have learned to manage my ‘cup overflowing’.


I have to do this, because if my ‘cup overflows’ continually, my mood lowers, my emotions increase and all my complex PTSD symptoms then increase as a result, which results in complete incapacity, to cope and can become life threatening. PTSD – is a life threatening disorder, when severe.


It is why I always say, you will not learn to manage your PTSD well, if you have a busy, stressful daily life. Which cannot always be avoided, I understand, but it is essential for PTSD management, to have the least stressful life possible. Especially if the PTSD symptoms are severe, and while first learning to manage them.


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