Part 1: Trauma's Impact on The Body & Mind
Understanding how trauma effects the body & mind
Gaining a deep comprehension of trauma’s impact on our health remains a pressing societal concern. Traumatic experiences can keep our bodies in a heightened state of “fight or flight,” with hormones raging long after the initial stressful incident. Just as positive encounters and our ability to navigate them contribute to prosperous lives, the absence of sufficient protective factors in the face of childhood and adult trauma can shatter lives. However, by expanding our knowledge on effective coping mechanisms for stress, we can assist individuals in their healing journey.
The Origins of Trauma: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Understanding the profound impact of cumulative adversity during critical developmental periods, scientific research confirms that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a fundamental underlying cause of the most detrimental, persistent, and costly health challenges faced by our society.
In a groundbreaking study conducted in 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente, ACEs emerged as a term encompassing 10 categories of adversities across three domains experienced by the age of 18:
- Abuse: physical, emotional, or sexual
- Neglect: physical or emotional
- Household challenges: Parental Incarceration, mental health and/or substance abuse in the home, domestic violence, divorce/separation.
When ACEs occur without sufficient protective factors, such as the presence of a highly attentive parent or adult, they can induce “toxic stress.” This type of stress is so severe or prolonged that it inflicts lasting and damaging impacts on both the body and mind, detectable as early as infancy.
In the overall US population, individuals with four or more ACEs are found to be:
- 2 to 2.3 times more likely to have a stroke, cancer, or heart disease
- 3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes
3.2 times more likely to have chronic lower respiratory disease
- 5 times more likely to experience major depression
- 10 times more likely to engage in “problematic drug use”
- 37.5 times more likely to attempt suicide
Furthermore, trauma can lead to persistent inflammation, something that has been correlated with conditions such as heart disease and autoimmune disorders. Additionally, our behavioral response to stress can lead to unhealthy coping habits, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or overeating as a means of self-comforting.
ACE(S) and toxic stress response
Extensive scientific evidence has established that the accumulation of adversities during critical periods of early life development can have profound and lasting effects on physical health and well-being. High doses of cumulative adversity can trigger a condition known as the “toxic stress response.” Because this stress response disrupts brain development and hormonal systems, emotional and cognitive abilities are at higher risk. These systems, including the nervous, endocrine, immune, metabolic, and hormonal systems, are fundamental to emotional and cognitive abilities that promote overall health, positive behavior, and well-being (Shonkoff et al., 2012).
ACE(s) & Child Development
Because critical developmental phases occur before the age of 18, individuals who experience Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and related life events (RLEs) are more vulnerable to the associated consequences, both physically and mentally. When a child is exposed to adversities without the resources or supports needed to cope, these adversities can become biologically embedded in the child’s biology due to the physiological changes triggered by toxic stress. Some examples of the biological alterations resulting from prolonged stress responses during critical child development stages include:
- Epigenetic changes, affecting gene expression (Herzog and Schmahl 2018, Turecki et al. 2014)
- Shortening of telomere length, associated with aging, disease, and early mortality (Rideout 2018)
- Disruption of neurodevelopment and declined brain connectivity
- Long-term reprogramming of stress regulatory and immune systems, impacting the individual’s lifelong stress response and immune system functioning (Sciaraffa et al., 2018)
Part 2 of this blog will Review:
- Addressing Trauma for Better Health
- The Resilience of the Brain and Body in the Face of Trauma
- Mitigating Trauma’s Impact on Your Body
- Finding Resources for Healing
This blog is the first part of two posts due to the length and depth of the content.
If you are looking for immediate help or support,
please call 988 or go to your local emergency room