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Detailed explanations of common PTSD symptoms.

PTSD Symptoms: Body armor

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Chronic muscle tension is one of the many aggravating symptoms of PTSD. Photo Credit: Photostock/

Did you know the body stores memories? Most people think memories are only stored in our mind, but that’s not true. The body remembers what the mind chooses to forget. Sometimes people’s muscles get “locked tight” from holding stress inside or trying to “forget” unpleasant memories.

The term body armor describes one way survivors cope with PTSD symptoms. It starts in the brain, which sends signals beyond our conscious awareness to the muscles, creating chronic holding patterns in the posture and tissues of the body.

How does this happen? A traumatic event causes the body to contract its muscles and harden to shield the inner self. Just think back to the last time something frightened you or someone treated you harshly. Do you remember your shoulders and neck tightening in response?

If the trauma is substantial enough, the brain will continue to send messages to the muscles, which will be reluctant to release their grip in an effort to protect you from “what’s about to happen,” even if “what’s about to happen” already happened years ago.

Another explanation for body armor? The Herculean effort you are making to contain how out of control you feel or to resist memories from the past has created a cycle of tension that’s hard to break without professional help.

Nancy Presser is my massage therapist and yoga instructor who now lives in California. She says, “When I encounter a person on my massage table with a lot of body armor, the first thing I ask them is, ‘Do you drink enough water?’” Surprisingly, drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day is a great start toward loosening the hold tension has on your muscles. “If I can get a client to drink water, then more space is created between the cells of their muscle tissue. That’s the focus of massage, to manually manipulate the muscles to create more space, blood flow and oxygen,” comments Nancy.

Energy and blood flow in your body can’t circulate freely through areas of tension. One bad side effect is your body may shut down those areas, causing physical ailments and emotional imbalances. A Tacoma mother whose adult daughter was molested as a child shares via email, “The emotional outbursts that occur seemingly without provocation and the physical ailments that no doctor can pinpoint make life for a young adult woman harder than it should be.”

Physical symptoms and emotional turmoil are the body’s way of responding to unresolved issues and events. If the tension and emotional residue left by the traumatic event are not dealt with together, symptoms can go on for years. Massage, as well as, acupressure and chiropractic adjustments can really help to loosen up those muscles and get you on the path toward emotional healing.

Nancy points out, “knowingly or unknowingly, when we allow chronic muscle tension, we are keeping the memories associated with that tension from flowing freely through us. By unlocking the tension, you also release the emotional memories stored within the cells. Depending on what a client wants to accomplish, I can help them release those memories.”

Remember, it all begins with the brain. Massage therapy alone won’t take you very far toward walking away from PTSD forever. That’s why you need a Healing Team! Recognizing your own tendency toward body armor and watching Dr. Phil’s explanation on the show The Doctors can help you understand the powerful connection between body and mind.

The next step? Find a licensed massage therapist to add to your PTSD Healing Team! Here’s how to find a great one: PTSD Self-help: Choosing a Massage Therapist (available tomorrow!)

Do you struggle with chronic muscle tension and mysterious physical ailments? Tell us about your PTSD struggle and what you’ve done to seek relief or ask a question. Others, like you, who read this article want to know they’re not alone in their struggle to overcome PTSD.

Join us on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles on how to recruit each member of your Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:


PTSD Self-help: Warning signs – do not heal!

Help sign

Healing PTSD starts with helping yourself. Are you ready? Photostock /

Welcome back! This series, PTSD Self-help Healing, reveals step-by-step details of how I overcame more than half a lifetime of PTSD. Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Coming up, you’ll develop a Healing Plan and a Healing Team. Then, in later weeks, I’ll introduce you to easy activities and lifestyle changes that will help you to feel better fast! Finally, we might form some groups on Twitter where you can share your experience, ask questions or encourage one another.

Today, we’ll finish up getting a grasp on the possibility of healing by identifying obstacles. Remember, we said no journey can be undertaken safely without counting the cost of making the trip. Part of counting the cost is figuring out potential obstacles so you can avoid them.

We said, if you were taking a solo road trip across the U.S., you would give some thought to how long you’d be gone, if you could take time off from work, how your absence would impact your family.

One thing you wouldn’t want to forget? Making sure your mode of transportation was in tip top shape…no flat tires! No annoying road construction! No bus drivers’ union on strike! So, let’s finish up counting the cost of healing and show you danger signs to watch out for.

PTSD Cautions: Do Not Heal!

Occasionally, the healing journey itself can trigger a Healing Crisis. By immersing yourself in an environment totally focused on PTSD education and healing, you may experience occasional increases in symptoms, trigger flashbacks and/or just push too hard, too fast. A Healing Crisis means there are very specific instances when participating in healing activities should be avoided. 

Planning for a Healing Crisis is the best way to feel in control, if your symptoms flare up. We’ll undertake the planning process later in phase one of this series. For now, here are a few warning signs that indicate that it’s time to put the brakes on any healing activities…temporarily:

  • Feeling there’s no hope
  • Racing heart
  • Unable to focus; spaced out
  • Intruding thoughts, visions or memories

Mild symptoms are expected in the healing process; however, extreme symptoms require the assistance of a mental health professional. Seek immediate professional help if you experience any of the following:

  • Hyperventilation, uncontrollable shaking, or irregular heartbeat
  • Self-mutilation or the desire to self-mutilate
  • Emotional pain, anxiety or anger so intense you fear you are going to die
  • Self-destructive behavior (e.g. Alcohol or drug abuse, self-induced vomiting, over working)
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts

For more, the complete article and additional detailed information on when NOT to participate in the healing process is here: Having a Healing Crisis? Do Not Heal!

Extreme symptoms often come just before a major breakthrough in healing. They do not mean you are a failure, unwilling to heal or can’t overcome your PTSD. Be kind to yourself! Move forward on the healing journey at a pace your body/mind can maintain.

Healing from PTSD isn’t a sprint…it’s a marathon. Set yourself up for success! When you’re feeling your best, make a plan for how you’ll handle emergencies. Whether you are civilian or military, these links are helpful in developing the beginnings of an Emergency Plan of Action:

How is everyone doing? Be sure to subscribe, so you’ll receive each new article delivered right to your in-box. Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! I love to hear from you! Here’s how to connect (handy buttons at the top of this page):

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