Crowded, noisy environments can be difficult for those suffering from TBI and/or PTSD. Overstimulation in an environment can lead to emotional and mental discomfort, but also a sense of physical tension and discomfort. Restaurants are a prime example of this level of discomfort.
I can tell you that combat vets with PTSD are not the only ones who do not like to sit with their back to a door. From a civilian PTSD perspective, I also do not sit with my back to a doorway, especially in crowded environments. Reasons are similar, yet different. Facing a doorway enables me to see if there is a case of sudden danger, should something unexpected come crashing through a window or if something dangerous occurs where I must react quickly. The only time I relinquish this position is if I'm with a veteran or police officer who trumps my seat and will be the one who keeps watch.
The vigilance may have developed from separate and different experiences, but it all comes from the same place in the brain. Having experienced a situation of extreme danger or the potential for bodily harm triggers the brain to stay alert. Loud sounds, too many different kinds of noises, and over-stimulation in general, cause stress hormones to fire on high alert and that puts me in a state of needing to know where my exits are. Having a good view of what's going on in the room is also important should I need to excuse myself if the energy gets to be too much.
Over the weekend I was in a restaurant in Delaware that was mildly crowded, although remarkably, not too noisy. However, there were televisions everywhere and they even put digital ordering screens on the table. If I was trying to focus on the person I was with, they weren't making it easy. It takes skill to pay attention in an environment like that. As I was sitting there, I felt someone coming up behind me and before I could turn, the server warned me that she was coming up behind me and said that she didn't want to startle me.
I was so taken back that she thought to do that. I have been surprised by many people coming up behind me quickly that startled me and not one would ever think to announce their presence. I appreciated her attention to detail and thought about how many veterans and police officers would appreciate someone paying attention to how they move about the room. The demonstration of sensitivity for someone's well-being was well noted.
In my training for trauma-sensitive meditation, I have been trained to let a sleeping soldier lay as he/she may. Never touch a sleeping soldier because you don't know where their mind has wandered to in their sleep and you do not want to startle them.
I move about the room during meditation and use my voice as a way to keep them alert, should they fall asleep, I explain my procedure for handling that so that all are aware. It's the same concept as what the server in the restaurant exercised with me.
This also plays a role in yoga. Although I am not a yoga instructor, I have taken many different types of yoga classes in many different studios in the United States. Again, as someone with PTSD, I am well aware of what is trauma-sensitive and what isn't. A teacher must alert me in the beginning of class if there is to be any physical adjusting of position. The expectation of what must take place is key and it is how I provide services to others as well. Information and education make a huge impact.
*Photo: Google Images