Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

A journey to healing from complex trauma.

PTSD & STRESS – PTSD Stress Cup Theory

The PTSD Cup Theory

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This 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 unconsciously, 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).

Cup/Diagram 1.

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

Cup/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.

Cup/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.

This is a really great article on how childhood complex trauma – causes great damage to the capacity to deal with stress within adulthood.



31 thoughts on “PTSD & STRESS – PTSD Stress Cup Theory

  1. This is an excellent diagram! I wish I had known of it when I was actively working with a counselor on PTSD and trauma issues. I see more concretely why I need to make stress management and relaxation a higher priority.

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  3. Thanks a great example. Helps explain the overflow and the inability to cope. A great example to show others who do not understand. Tks

  4. Pingback: Severe PTSD, school holidays, husband night shifts, hives & nauseous at dinnertime. | Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

  5. I wish there was some way to explain this to my family. They think I do small thongs around the house and lay down because I’m lazy and don’t want to work. I couldn’t put what I was feeling into words but this sums it up perfectly. Thank you for making me feel like I’m not crazy.

  6. Thank you so much for these articles and for the others giving feedback. I can totally relate to all of this. Today is a rough day for me. doing the best I can at self care, yet my nerves are totally shot. High anxiety level. Wish my family understood my ptsd. Very thankful for this form.

  7. I currently work with abused women and kids. The subject of mental illnesses is very close to my heart since I’ve been diagnosed with Depression myself and my mother has Paranoia. Wwhen parents that have mental illnesses do not acknowlwdge that they are sick and that treatment has to be administered to them, this affects their families too. Their kids can end up being troubled kids because of this. And as a result kids can start misbehaving and ending up in prison only because they didn’t have the right parent to look up to. Please give me the correct tools to teach my community and bring awwareness to Mental Illnesses. I bbelieve so much can be conquered in this way.

  8. This makes perfect sense. It’s so hard to explain to people why I’m stressed so easily, especially family that remember me before the PTSD. Thanks for help spreading the truth!

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  10. Thank you for this illustration. This captures well what happens to my husband..I just showed him and it’s not only what I see but what he feels. Its why I can start the day with one guy but depending on his stressors he can be dissociated and sleeping from late afternoon until the next morning when he “resets”. Here’s my question….is this something that you depicted to help explain what you feel or is this representing some neuroscience/PTSD research? If so, could you reference any studies that support this as we have an appointment to review medications and the background to this would be helpful. Thanks!

    • Hi there Julie, t
      Tis is something I learned in counselling and have read in various PTSD books about the PTSD brain struggling with stress and how to manage it.
      I tested it out and found it to be very true, how de-stressing the PTSD brain is so necessary.
      It is about the way the PTSD brain processes.
      I will see if I can find some research on PTSD and stress, that shows some neuroscience info to explain it.
      I love researching!

      • Oh, thank you! And I’ll continue to do the same. More about what happens at that overflow stage as I understand the destressing part…like which parts of the brain are involved; which neurotransmitters. I’ve been reading alot about personal stories these past few days and am interested that so many talk about shutting down/extreme fatigue because so consistently my husband gets triggered/overflows and then dissociates and gets extremely. We all can notice immediately if he’s trying to push through the changes (not a good personality) and it’s not yet been reversible except with 14-16 hours of deep sleep. Wondering about mechanism to hopefully adjust meds…it’s incapacitating though he’s making progress on the front end of destressing by going to his “happy place” and breathing/meditating etc

  11. Shit it explains alot. My brain has no way been coping with the cptsd shit. No wonder I want to die all the time. I just get high and that ain’t working. Added stress on the brain. Some days my brain feels so achey like it needs a massage.

  12. Your description of the overflowing cup is so easy to grasp. I will show it to my husband and children to help them understand my PTSD better. Thank you.

  13. The stress vulnerability model is very helpful for any mental illness.

  14. I have no counciling and no diagnosis for this…but it feels like pieces to my own puzzle. How do I take the first steps of improving my situation? Which comes first the doctor or the diagnosis?? So to speak…
    Thanks, Beth

    • Find a doctor you trust- medical or psychological, and make an appt to lay it all out. Take notes with you. Be heard, then go from there. We are not all replicas, and your needs might be somewhat different than mine, or a boatload different. Ask a professional.

  15. Thank you for posting this. My family has always told me to get over it and let it all go. They tell me the things that people with PTSD don’t want or need to hear. I have had PTSD for 9 years now and it has kinda gotten harder. But the taking time to relax and do nothing just so you can clear your mind helps a lot. I hope this helps my family and friends understand what I truly go through because it is a daily struggle and always will be. So thank you for posting this.

  16. Oh yeah, a simple flat tire can make me feel like its the end of the world. Its ridiculous. Lately, reminding myself that not everything is a big deal seems to help. I wasn’t like this after my childhood trauma. Nope. It started when I had children with autism anf only got tons worse after I had a nervous breakdown and had to give them up. Its been 5 years and still this. Atleast I’m not suicidal anymore, so maybe this stress response will also improve slowly. It makes me lazy too, as laziness helps me to avoid stressful situations.

  17. I found a thing that works and I’ve been more productive than before… along with my usual biweekly massage, now I also down loaded this relax sounds app from playstore. I particularly fancy the frog sounds and the crickets! They also have beach sounds and such. I play it every night before bed with the lights off, meditating just on the sound and pretending I’m at a lake or something. Its relaxing enough that it makes me fall asleep faster and I’ve noticed I’m more productive than usual, and playing catch up with the things id procrastinated. Give it a try and let me know in reply comments if this works. Ttfn

  18. Excellent informations! Needs to be made available to all in NHS,government,GP,counci
    Staff ! So they try to understand the affects of trauma

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  20. This is good I have ptsd along with child hood trama and bad car accident.ptsd from that .I was going too have my grandchildren over and felt stress ful from it.dodgy know why just because I can’t walk and do the things I’m use to I think that’s why my stress level went up.but my son didn’t let her stay do I felt relief .I was never like this before the accident.

  21. Couldnt have said it better myself if someone asked me to explain how I feel…

  22. Pingback: PTSD & STRESS – PTSD Stress Cup Theory – UndeniablySara

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