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Natural Remedy for PTSD: the Sound Approach

By: Erin Stair, MD, MPH

Is there a natural remedy for PTSD?

This is an area that is exploding with research and interest as more and more people with PTSD want to find natural forms of therapy. This is especially true for veterans. Many veterans are looking for alternative approaches to help with the symptoms of PTSD. While many veterans take prescribed medication for PTSD, those medications are not without side effects. Even young veterans, in their twenties and thirties, are taking multiple medications to control their symptoms. Then they sometimes struggle with withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop. For many, as documented in the film, Medicating Normal, the medication turns out to be a horrible and unexpected struggle.

I’m really passionate about finding effective alternatives that help veterans struggling with the invisible scars of war and help them integrate back into civilian life. That said, a natural remedy for PTSD may not be possible for everyone. Some things might work for some people and not others. Some natural approaches might work for some of the symptoms of PTSD and not others. And some things may work some of the time, but not all of the time. That’s just the nature of healing, and we should be honest about that. It’s also why we should have many different tools in our “wellness toolbox.”

What sort of natural remedies for PTSD are there? Well, there’s meditation and yoga, both of which have a strong evidence base. However, they both require effort by the person, which may not be possible if in the strong clutches of PTSD. By effort, I mean they require a person to focus or, as is the case with yoga, follow breathing instructions and carry out various movements. There is equine therapy, nature therapy, laughter therapy and sound therapy, all of which have shown some benefit. There’s virtual reality exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and, a new area that I’m very interested in, psychedelic medicinal therapy. 

The natural remedy for PTSD that I’ll focus on here is sound therapy, specifically the ZENTone programs that I created. But first I want to mention why I became obsessed with sound therapy.

I am wired to be very sensitive to noise. It’s just…my genetic makeup. I’m extremely sensitive to loud noises and sounds that irritate me. Some people say I’m “on the spectrum,” but, well, so be it. Over the years, I have kept careful observations on how different sounds affect me. This includes how they affect my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep; my ability to remember things; how they impact my athletic performance, how well I score on a test; how well I focus on a tedious medical writing project; how anxious I am before a date, a speech or a job interview, and how they affect the way I rate pain. I’ve also taken measurements, including my heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. This little self-experiment has been quite eye-opening for me. It has also taken me on a journey of sampling various forms of sound therapy: sound baths, singing bowls, vibration therapy and binuaral stimulation. The reason I fell “most” in love with binaural stimulation is that you can do it anywhere. Meaning, you can listen to binaural arragements anywhere, and it doesn’t require any effort. So, for example, if you are feeling extremely anxious or depressed, you don’t have to make an effort to do yoga or talk to a therapist. You can just put on your headphones and listen.

I also became interested in sound sequencing, or how the order of how sounds are presented, impacts our physiological responses. Researchers in Germany helped me “optimize” this in the ZENTones I created. So, yes, ZENTones. They are the sound programs that I created, and offer through my website. They are rooted in the science of binaural beat stimulation and sound sequencing. I listen to them regularly: From working on a medical writing project to helping alleviate pain from menstrual cramps. They help me a lot, so I want to introduce them to as many people as possible, especially the veteran population.

In general, I receive a lot of emails from veterans seeking natural remedies for PTSD symptoms.They are tired of pharmaceutical cocktails and tired of the side effects. I can’t blame them. Medication is, yes, absolutely necessary at times. But it does not feel right to me to see otherwise healthy and so many young twenty, thirty or forty year olds with the pill boxes of ninety year olds. Worse yet, are the veterans who are stuck in the terrifying spiral of withdrawal symptoms. Luckily, there are very active online forums full of people who can offer hope and guidance.

A combat veteran wrote me and asked me if he could try ZENTones for anxiety. He had been diagnosed with PTSD and had debilitating anxiety, to the point that he couldn’t leave his home. I told him that I would send him the ZENTones to see if they helped, of course with the disclaimer that he should consult and listen to his doctor, not use them to replace any medications and to realize that ZENTones are more of a relaxation tool than anything else. He understood, so I sent him the ZENTones.

Now, there is not a lot of  published research on the benefits of binaural beat stimulation in cases of PTSD. Much of the research is geared towards discovering biomarkers or brain chemicals one can manipulate. Why is that the case? Well, there is more money in pills that you can patent than there is in natural remedies or sounds that, for the most part, can’t be patented. There is research available that shows that binaural beat arrangements are beneficial for reducing anxiety in high-anxiety provoking situations, such as the hours before getting surgery, and there is evidence that listening to binuaral arragements significantly improves sleep. Bad sleep is linked to increased anxiety, so addressing one, might help the other. You can find links to studies on my FAQ page.

While I always request feedback for folks who want to try ZENTones, this veteran kept a diary! That blew me away, because most people aren’t good historians. He was also gracious enough to share his diary with me and allow me to share it with you. That is both intimate and awesome. I posted photos of his diary below, which is a very honest account on how the ZENTones improved his sleep and his anxiety. He had good handwriting, so I am assuming you guys can read it. ( Way better handwriting than me! 🙂 )

After you read what he wrote, if you have any questions at all about ZENTones, feel free to write me. Also, I invite you guys to check out my health podcast, Causes or Cures, on which I’ve been lucky enough to feature amazing experts who talk about timely, sometimes controversial, health topics. And now, for you to read:

 

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