Category Archives: Boise Mental Health

Boise Mental Health

Four Ways to Beat Holiday Stress

Image from Psychology Today

The Christmas season can be overwhelming. Managing traditions, a heavy end-of-year workload, financial stress, even time spent with extended family can contribute to poor mental health. Here are ways you can manage your stress during “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: 

Set boundaries. 

This is the most important (and probably the most difficult) part of combating holiday stress. The more you run up against holiday traditions and expectations from friends and family, the more potential there is to disappoint people. And that’s okay! It’s hard, but this is exactly the time you need to take careful inventory of yourself. Ask yourself these questions: 

  1. What are the most important things to me right now?
  2. What do I need to let go of?
  3. Who can I ask for help?

Exercise. 

According to Science Daily, the holidays is exactly the time you should be getting physical activity. Here’s what exercise physiologist Erica Christ has to say about it: 

“When times get crazy, the thing people give up is exercise, and that’s the key thing a person needs….the burst of energy that you get from exercise can help burn the adrenaline off and calm you down.”

Physical activity can stimulate dopamine production in your brain, which can improve your mood. Even if it’s just for half an hour, a little exercise can go a long way. 

Alone time. 

I’ve written about this before: taking time to be alone benefits your mental health during the holidays. Simply making the choice to be alone and do something you like to do can calm you down and even nurture your creative side! 

Self care. 

In an excellent article aimed at helping nurses de-stress during the holidays, Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio writes: 

As natural-born caregivers, it’s almost standard practice to put other people’s needs before your own. But if you want to beat burnout, it’s essential you incorporate a variety of strategies to help you unwind, relax, and rest each day…If need be, mark it on your calendar, and make these self-care activities non-negotiable.

In short: relax. Breathe deeply. And call me if you need someone to talk to. 

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

Singing Through Parkinson’s Disease

A group of Parkinson’s patients singing in a research study for Iowa State University.

Patients with advanced Parkinson’s are singing their way to better mental health, says Elizabeth Stegemöller, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University. (Click here to see a video of Stegemöller leading her singing group in 2017.)

Stegemöller saw patients’ moods improve and their stress decrease, and their motor symptoms fell as well.

“Some of the symptoms that are improving, such as finger tapping and the gait, don’t always readily respond to medication, but with singing they’re improving,” Stegemöller said in ScienceDaily.com.

The data is still new, but Stegemöller says the singing patients showed improvements that were similar to taking medication. Singing is also beneficial in helping Parkinson’s patient improve their respiratory and swallow control.

Stegemöller and her team measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels for the singing participants, who also reported any feelings of happiness, sadness, anger and anxiety. The same data was recorded after the one-hour singing session ended.

This is one of the first studies to look at how singing affects heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol in people with Parkinson’s disease, according to ScienceDaily. While reported levels of happiness and anger stayed about the same, patients reported they were feeling less anxious and sad.

Researchers are taking it one step further: analyzing blood samples to measure oxytocin levels, indicators of inflammation and neuroplasticity to see if these factors are also affected by singing.

Isn’t it incredible how our minds can affect our physical health? Chronic health conditions can take such a toll on your emotional health. If you feel like you’re under a cloud, call me. We can sing our way through this together.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

The Effects of Gratitude on Heart and Brain

Image from NIH.gov.

I’ve written about the ways gratitude can improve your life.

Gratitude can improve your romantic relationships, help you sleep better, decreases depression, even decreases suicidal thoughts.

A 2017 study conducted at the University of Seoul, South Korea, focused on the effects of gratitude on neural network functional connectivity, and how gratitude affects your heart and brain at the same time. 

The study observed 32 healthy volunteers–17 women, 15 men–and had them go through two 5-minute exercises called the gratitude and resentment interventions. The participants followed instructions written and spoken on a screen while they were in an MRI scanner. The first minute of both the gratitude and resentment exercises participants focused on slow, deep breathing, relaxing and calming themselves.

During the gratitude exercise, the participant was asked to focus on a mental image of their mother for four minutes and to tell their mothers in their mind how much they loved and appreciated her.

During the resentment  exercise, the participant focused for four minutes on a moment or person who had made them angry.

During the gratitude intervention, scientists observed lower heart rates than in the resentment intervention. The scientists wrote:

Given that [heart rate] is decreased among people with high self-esteem, and increased among people with high stress and anxiety, our results suggest that gratitude intervention modulates heart rhythms in a way that enhances mental health.

Scientists also found that there was a connection between expressing gratitude and higher activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a part of the brain that is involved in decision making, ethics and emotion (among other things). Higher ACC activity means lower rates of anxiety and depression. Lower ACC activity means “emotional disorders, such as social anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.”

“Our gratitude intervention could play a pivotal role in reducing anxiety,” they wrote. “This evidence is consistent with the idea that ACC activity is facilitated by meditation.”

While we all know gratitude is a wonderful, healing emotion, I wondered: why exactly did the scientists ask participants to use a mental image of their mother for the gratitude test?

I found this sentence in the study fascinating: “Gratitude towards a parent has been associated with resilience and low levels of aggression as well as high levels of happiness and low levels of depressive symptoms. Although expressing gratitude toward one’s mother is a powerful positive experience that can lead to a happier life, putting this theory into practice is difficult in many cases.”

Family relationships can be difficult, and I know that Thanksgiving can sometimes be a stressful or upsetting experience. Take these Korean scientists’ advice and spend a few minutes in gratitude meditation before meeting with family. And if Thanksgiving leaves you feeling raw and upset, give me a call. I want to help you have the healthiest family relationships you can.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Book Review: The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

Image from Amazon.com.

The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger is an incredibly empowering book on trauma recovery, written by a woman who has sometimes been nicknamed “the Anne Frank who didn’t die.

The pain of Dr. Eger’s story is hard to fathom. Nearly her entire family, all Hungarian Jews, died in Auschwitz when she was 16 years old. Dr. Eger was an accomplished ballerina and was once made to dance before Josef Mengele, the SS doctor who was nicknamed “Angel of Death” for torturing Auschwitz inmates in the name of scientific observation. He gave her a loaf of rye bread after she finished dancing, which she tore up and shared with her bunkmates.

The Nazis transferred prisoners from Auschwitz to Gunskirchen near the end of the war. Dr. Eger remembers being made to ride on top of the train cars full of ammunition as a kind of human shield. By the time she and Magda were marched into Gunskirchen, she weighed about seventy pounds.

The girls were rescued when an American GI pulled her from a pile of corpses, feeding her M&Ms one at a time. Her sister Magda also survived and they eventually made their way back to their home where, miraculously, their sister Klara had survived the war. The reunion is as painful and beautiful as you would imagine. (A blue-eyed blonde woman, she had passed as a gentile, living part of the time as a novice in a convent.)

What sets Dr. Eger’s book apart from other Holocaust memoirs is best summed up in the forward, written by her colleague and friend Philip Zimbardo, PhD.

“…[H]er book is so much more than another Shoah memoir, as important as such stories are for remembering the past. Her goal is nothing less than to help each of us to escape the prisons of our own minds….it is Edie’s mission to help us realize that just as we can act as our own jailers, we can also be our own liberators.”

The book is divided into four sections: Prison, Escape, Freedom, and Healing. The last two sections describe how Dr. Eger eventually stops running from her past and embraces it. She is given a copy of “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl in her undergraduate studies and through him, she eventually finds the permission and the words to speak her truth. Frankl became a mentor and friend to Dr. Eger until he died in 1997.

Dr. Eger becomes a psychologist and begins to practice, finding pieces of her own trauma in her patients. To the spouses in crisis, to the girl with eating disorders, to the Vietnam veteran with PTSD. And as she gives them permission to heal, she gives permission to herself as well.

In the final section of the book, Dr. Eger delivers an address in Berghopf, Hitler’s private palace. She tells the crowd: 

“Every beating, bombing, and selection line, every death, every column of smoke pushing skyward, every moment of terror when I thought it was the end–these live on in me, in my memories and my nightmares…The past isn’t gone…it lives on in me. But so does the perspective it has afforded me: that I lived to see liberation because I kept hope alive in my heart. That I lived to see freedom because I learned to forgive.”

As Dr. Eger writes, “Maybe to heal isn’t to erase the scar, or even to make the scar. To heal is to cherish the wound.” This book is singular because of how Dr. Eger doesn’t once diminish the experiences of those who haven’t suffered as she suffered. She finds the commonality in all our pain, and gives people tools to own their part in their healing.

Read this book. And if you see pieces of yourself in Dr. Eger’s journey, give me a call. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common problem with trauma and can be a serious interruption of your life.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

How Stress Alters Your Brain

Image from APA.org.

If you are in your 40s and suspect your memory is already slipping, stress could be the culprit.

A new study found that forty-somethings who had high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their bodies also had reduced brain volumes and lower cognitive performance.

This study–unlike many prior studies of cortisol’s effect on the brain–specifically targeted middle-aged men and women. Participants did cognitive testing, a brain MRI, and a fasting morning blood sample.

Those with the highest levels of cortisol had the worst performance on visual perception, executive function and attention tasks. They also had a more difficult time retaining information.

The study also found that women tended to have higher cortisol levels than their male counterparts.

I know that stress is pervasive and unavoidable. Things like personal conflict, work responsibilities and financial uncertainty are part of the human experience.

So what can you do about it?

Over the long term, women’s stress levels tend to naturally decrease with age. However, here are a few suggestions how to proactively manage your stress today:

  • Therapy. Feelings of stress can be closely linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.  If you have a difficult time unwinding, or you don’t understand why exactly you are feeling stress, you may need extra help or medication to manage your mental health.
  • Get outside. I believe strongly in getting out into nature to improve your mental health. I wrote here about Japanese “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing,” which is simply taking in a forest atmosphere, which has been shown to lower cortisol levels. I actually offer walking therapy sessions on the Greenbelt for this reason.
  • Chew gum. I know this may sound silly, but there is a surprising amount of research about chewing gum and stress. This 2015 study drew a strong link between mastication (chewing) and lower levels of salivary cortisol, higher level of alertness, and lower self-reported levels of anxiety and stress.
  • Write it out.  Getting your anxieties and worries out on paper is so helpful: which things can you control? Which things aren’t your responsibility? What can you do about it? Simply writing out your feelings can help with anxiety and depression, as well as help you plan how to manage current stresses.

There are so many ways to help yourself lower your stress levels. Do it for your peace of mind, and for your future brain function.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958 or email her at satu214@gmail.com. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Grandmas and Friendship Benches Help Treat Depression in Africa

Image from CNN.com.

Grandmothers, take note: in Africa, mental health professionals pioneered a method where they used grandmothers and friendship benches to screen people for basic psychiatric services.

In 2004, a man named Dixon Chibanda was one of only two psychiatrists in all of Zimbabwe (a country of about 12.5 million people). He had a patient named Erica who traveled to Harare, the capital city, from a rural village more than 160 miles away to meet with him. Erica had passed her exams at school but was unable to find work. She had hoped to marry a man who chose another woman. She felt worthless.

Chibanda and Erica met monthly for about a year. He prescribed a mild antidepressant, hoping it would help her cope with her difficulties. Then Erica committed suicide in 2005.

Chibanda changed his career path after Erica’s death, focusing instead on helping get mental help for under-served populations like Erica’s village. And he started with the grandmothers.

Grandmothers had been working in public health clinics in Zimbabwe since the 1980s. In 2006, the clinics asked grandmothers to provide basic psychological therapies to people.

Chibanda and the grandmothers decided to put a Friendship Bench under a shade tree. This is where they would ask patients 14 questions to determine if they needed further treatment, such as “In the last week, have you been thinking too much?” or “Have you thought of killing yourself?”

Then the grandmothers would help them through problem-solving therapy to identify the stresses and social issues in their lives and guide patients to find their own solutions. If the patient needed more intensive therapy, the grandmothers would refer them to Chibanda.

In 2016, Chibanda and his colleagues found that Friendship Bench treatment showed “a significant decrease in depressive symptoms.”

I think this is wonderful. There are so many benefits when younger people to connect with the elderly. Elderly people can feel a sense of purpose that is sometimes lacking with age. Young people can benefit from the perspective that comes with their years.

Older people tend to be less stressed themselves (I wrote about a study that stress levels drop off for women when they reach their 50s and 60s) and they can mirror this behavior for younger people through turbulent periods of their lives.

Grandmothers, remember that you are important. Take some time to reach out to your loved ones or figure out ways to mentor vulnerable youth and young adults in your area. It can truly save lives.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958 or email her at satu214@gmail.com. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

The Mental Toll of Cannabis Use

Image from MedicalXpress.com.

I’ve written about this before: when you use cannabis to manage your mental health, the long-term risks far outweigh the short-term benefits. There is research linking cannabis use to schizophrenia in teens, as well as hallucinations, paranoia and other psychotic symptoms in people with a history of mental illness.

New research also shows that some people are genetically predisposed to psychotic-like experiences when using cannabis.

This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted across a sample of sibling pairs. This included 758 pairs of identical twins, 780 pairs of fraternal twins and 195 same-sex sibling pairs no more than two years apart in age. Of all the sets of siblings, one was a heavy cannabis user and one used cannabis less frequently.

The twin who used cannabis more frequently was “more likely to report psychotic-like experiences” than the twin who used cannabis less often. Even between non-twins, this finding was consistent.

Genetic factors accounted for 69.2% to 84.1% of the association between frequent, current, and dependent cannabis use and psychotic-like experiences. People from lower household incomes, young people, and people with lifetime alcohol and/or drug use were also associated with more frequent psychotic-like events.

Dr. Nicole Karcher, one of the authors of the study, called for more research, educational materials or guidelines for cannabis use in these vulnerable populations, we read in Med Page Today.

“Targeting or reducing cannabis use in individuals who are at risk might be a really important method of treatment,” Dr. Karcher said.

Dr. Karcher also said that heavy cannabis use releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine dysfunction can lead to psychotic symptoms, so this could account for the abnormal association.

In the spirit of protecting vulnerable populations, ask yourself if any of these questions apply to you or someone you love.

  • Do you ever get high alone?
  • Do you choose or lose friends based on your marijuana usage?
  • Do you smoke marijuana to avoid dealing with your problems?
  • Has marijuana caused problems with memory, concentration, or motivation?
  • When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?
  • Have friends or relatives ever complained that your marijuana use is damaging your relationship with them?

If any of these scenarios are familiar to you, that can indicate a level of cannabis dependency that can be risky to maintain long-term. Contact me and let’s talk about what other options are available to you to maintain good mental health.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958 or email her at Satu214@gmail.com. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Why Am I Having Nightmares?

Image from Dreams.co.uk.

What causes nightmares, anyway?

Nightmares tend to crop up when we’re stressed, anxious, depressed, on certain medications, or when our sleep is being consistently interrupted (hello, parents of a newborn!). Occasional nightmares are normal, but consistent nightmares can be indicative of a larger problem.

The most common mental health disorder associated with nightmares is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), whether it be from traumatic life events or military service. (In fact, frequent nightmares have become a criteria used to diagnose PTSD.)

What’s happening in your brain?

To understand nightmares, we need to look into human sleep patterns, especially REM sleep. A Harvard neurobiology article describes  REM sleep in layman’s terms: when you’re deeply asleep you have rapid eye movement (REM), irregular heartbeat, and your breathing rate increases.

REM sleep signals begin with the pons, which is an area at the base of the brain. The pons shuts off neurons in the spinal cord to suspend movement, all the while sending signals to the thalamus, which then boomerangs them to the cerebral cortex because that’s where the brain learns and organizes information.

REM sleep isn’t continuous–it’s a cycle that repeats through the night, only making up 20 percent of your total slumber–but it is in REM sleep that nearly all vivid dreaming takes place.

When do nightmares become a problem?

The occasional nightmare is normal, but here are some symptoms that may be indicative of a nightmare disorder:

  • Frequency (having nightmares several times a week)
  • Anxiety or persistent fear to go to sleep
  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • Problems functioning in social situations
  • Persistent fear of the dark

What can I do about recurring nightmares?

Name your fear. Identifying and managing the biggest stresses in your life can go a long way toward your peace of mind. Ask yourself: what are your biggest worries? What can you do about them right now? Are you willing to make those changes to address the problem?

Evaluate your lifestyle. What you take into your body can affect your quality of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation discourages drinking, smoking, or eating large meals late in the day. They also caution against ingesting large sources of caffeine as it acts as a stimulant for your brain. The highest sources of caffeine are in energy drinks, coffee, chocolate, diet drugs, soft drinks, non-herbal teas and some pain relievers, such as Excedrine.

Rewrite the ending. The Harvard neurobiology article describes a treatment called image rehearsal therapy (IRT). It’s a cognitive therapy where individuals with recurring nightmares write it out, then give it a positive ending. They rehearse this rewritten version before going to sleep.

See an APRN, doctor or specialist. If you believe you are having medication-induced nightmares, you may need the dosage adjusted. If you have persistent nightmares or sleep terrors, you may need to have a sleep study done to identify a problem.

If you think your nightmares are linked to anxiety, depression or past trauma, counseling can be helpful in identifying and managing those fears. Please let me know if I can help you.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Forgiveness and Mental Healing

Image from MyJewishLearning.com

“We are not responsible for what breaks us, but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again. Naming the hurt is how we begin to repair our broken parts.”
― Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World

What wounds do you carry?

You may have emotional wounds from your past, kept open by guilt and shame. Some wounds are a result of someone else’s violence, cruelty or betrayal toward you. Some wounds you may carry for the people you love, and their suffering.

Why should I forgive?

Whatever the wound, forgiveness can be a powerful healer, both mentally and physically. It can relieve stress, alleviate mental distress, even lower risk of heart disease. Anger can be a powerfully destructive and toxic emotion when sustained over time, physically as well as emotionally.

An article from the American Psychological Association links forgiveness to “reduced anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as with fewer physical health symptoms and lower mortality rates.”

What are the steps to forgiveness?

There is extensive research of forgiveness as a mental health practice, and commentary from religious and spiritual communities on how and why to forgive.

Here are my suggested steps toward forgiving:

1. Tell your story. Remember the initial quote by Desmond Tutu? “Naming the hurt is how we begin to repair our broken parts.” This advice may seem counter intuitive to the work of forgiveness, as it dredges up old pain. Here’s Tutu’s defense of telling your story:

When we ignore the pain, it grows bigger and bigger, and like an abscess that is never drained, eventually it will rupture. When that happens, it can reach into every area of our lives—our health, our families, our jobs, our friendships, our faith, and our very ability to feel joy may be diminished by the fallout from resentments, anger, and hurts that are never named.

Don’t ignore this pain. Even if you only tell yourself, speak the truth of what happened to you. Write it down. Let the pain out.

2. Put yourself in the other person’s chair.  When offense is on both sides, look at the argument or event through the other person’s eyes. This perspective can give you sympathy and compassion for the other person, which leads to forgiveness.

3. Commit. Stick to forgiveness. You will undoubtedly remember the offense again, but you can make the choice to remember that you forgave and release the anger and hurt yet again.

What about forgiving people for abuse?

I need to make this clear: if you are in an abusive relationship–emotional, physical or sexual abuse–you need to establish clear boundaries for yourself first before doing the work of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation.

Forgiveness does not mean returning to an abusive situation.

Forgiveness does not mean the abuse committed against you (or your loved ones) was warranted.

In the words of Dr. Sharie Stines, a psychologist who specializes in trauma recovery, “forgiveness means surrendering your right to hold your abuser accountable forever.”

If you are holding onto old wounds, release them. Release the pain for your own mental healing’s sake.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Memory and Sexual Abuse

Image from Medical XPress.

 

Last week Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate judiciary committee about allegations of sexual abuse. This sparked discussions about sexual abuse in news and social media across the United States. (Several victims even called into C-SPAN to share their stories after watching Dr. Ford’s testimony.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Dr. Ford about holes in her memory of the alleged assault. Why didn’t she remember what day it happened, exactly who was there, or even how she got home afterwards?

The way Dr. Ford presented her memories is consistent with my experience working with men and women who have been sexually abused. Some details of the abuse–the smell of the carpet, a dog that won’t stop barking, a song playing in the background–are clear, while other seemingly important details are more fuzzy.

Dr. Tracey Shors, a neuroscientist and professor at Rutgers University, wrote:

“It is interesting to me that Ford says she remembers the context and the layout of the bedroom, the bathroom where she hid and the stairwell to the room. We just published a study showing that women with sexual violence history experience vivid memories of the spatial and temporal context of their most stressful life event.

And what the other people who were supposedly there? Kavanaugh denied attending the party, as has one of Dr. Ford’s friends. Doesn’t that mean Dr. Ford made it up?

Not necessarily. Consider this bit of information from Dr. Shors:

[T]he people at the party who were not assaulted or stressed by the event are not as likely to remember it. For her, it was a memorable event; for them, it may have just been another time hanging out with few friends hanging at a house. This applies to the people downstairs but perhaps even for the two boys, especially if they were intoxicated.

But why can’t Dr. Ford remember the date of the event? This may seem like a huge clue to the veracity of her claims, but memories surrounding sexual abuse are not very tidy.

Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University and the author of the book Remembering Trauma, gives an example of being a clerk at a convenience store and robbed at gunpoint.

Which parts of that memory get encoded into the brain?

Not all the details, even important ones. Here’s what McNally wrote in an article for NPR:

The person may often encode the features of the weapon, the gun pointed at him, but not recall whether or not the person was wearing glasses…When somebody has an experience such as this, they’re not necessarily saying, ‘I better get down the address.’ They’re preoccupied with trying to escape this terrifying experience.