PTSD Might Be Contagious

iStock.com/shironosov
iStock.com/shironosov

Traumatic events don’t just affect the people who experience them. They also affect the victim’s partner, parents, children, and friends. We know this intuitively, but Scientific American highlights new research showing that the impact of trauma goes even deeper: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be passed from person to person.

By describing the traumatic event to another person, a form of secondary PTSD can be "caught" by someone who is close to the trauma victim, such as a parent, spouse, or even a therapist or emergency responder. According to Scientific American, recent research suggests that 10 to 20 percent of people who have a close relationship with someone who has PTSD could develop the condition themselves. One study from 2013 found that nearly one in five healthcare workers who had been helping members of the military with PTSD had developed “secondary trauma” [PDF].

Some of the symptoms they experienced included intrusions, or mental images, flashbacks, or nightmares of the traumatic event. Other symptoms were sleep disorders, feelings of hopelessness, stress-induced hyperarousal, and an overreactive fight-or-flight response.

Similar studies revealed that emergency responders, social workers, trauma therapists, and the wives of former prisoners of war are also at risk. Although the spouses or partners of war veterans are often affected, research from 2017 showed that the parents of veterans seemed unaffected, while the children of veterans occasionally showed symptoms, but not severe ones.

The definition of the disorder has even been amended to reflect these findings. According to the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, firsthand experience of a traumatic incident isn’t necessary to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Psychologist Judith Daniels of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands suggests there’s a physiological explanation for why secondhand trauma can seem so real and vivid to someone who never experienced the trauma itself directly. “The regions of the brain that proce[ss] visual imagery have a very strong overlap with regions that process imagined visual experience,” she tells Scientific American. It would seem that just hearing about the traumatic event is enough to produce PTSD-like symptoms.

Researchers also found that extremely empathetic people and people who don’t keep any “emotional distance” from the trauma victim (such as spouses) are at greater risk of developing secondary PTSD. That’s partly because they may internalize the trauma.

There may also be a genetic aspect that allows PTSD to be passed down from parent to child. A 2017 study suggests that one’s genetic biomarkers could denote a higher risk of PTSD, but researchers said further studies are needed to identify the specific genes involved, CNN reports.

[h/t Scientific American]

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Victorian Women Worked Out, Too—They Just Did It Wearing Corsets

Opening a door was nearly as taxing as an actual 19th-century workout.
Opening a door was nearly as taxing as an actual 19th-century workout.
ivan-96/iStock via Getty Images

The next time you’re gasping for breath in the middle of a cardio routine, try to imagine doing the same thing while decked out in a flowy dress and corset. That’s what female exercise enthusiasts faced in the 1800s.

According to Atlas Obscura, tailors weren’t churning out loose leggings or stretchy tracksuits for women to don for their daily fitness sessions, and workout guides for Victorian women were mainly written by men. To their credit, they weren’t recommending that ladies undergo high-intensity interval training or heavy lifting; instead, exercises were devised to account for the fact that women’s movements would be greatly constricted by tight bodices and elaborate hairstyles. As such, workouts focused on getting the blood flowing rather than burning calories or toning muscle.

In his 1827 book A Treatise on Calisthenic Exercises, Signor G.P. Voarino detailed dozens of options for women, including skipping, walking in zigzags, marching in place, and bending your arms and legs at specific angles. Some exercises even called for the use of a cane, though they were more geared towards balancing and stretching than weight-lifting.

To Voarino, the light calisthenic exercises were meant for “counteracting every tendency to deformity, and for obviating such defects of figure as are occasioned by confinement within doors, too close an application to sedentary employment, or by those constrained positions which young ladies habitually assume during their hours of study.”

Nearly 30 years later, Catharine Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's sister) published her own workout guide, Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families, which encouraged educators especially to incorporate exercise programs for all children into their curricula. Beecher was against corsets, but the illustrations in her book did still depict young ladies in long dresses—it would be some time before students were expected to change into gym clothes at school. Many of Beecher’s calisthenic exercises were similar to Voarino’s, though she included some beginner ballet positions, arm circles, and other faster-paced movements.

Compared to the fitness regimen of 14th-century knight Jean Le Maingre, however, Victorian calisthenics seem perfectly reasonable. From scaling walls to throwing stones, here’s how he liked to break a sweat.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]