childhood trauma lives under the skin

Adverse childhood experiences do not only alter our so-called psyche, but the immune system, the set up of the brain, our stress response, the capacity to take information in, social behaviour, even the DNA. That obviously has a determining impact on chances in life.

The stress response system in our body is built to ensure survival and enable us to get out of danger. Therefor cortisol levels go up, heart rate accelerates, muscles are tense on standby and senses are heightened. All functions not necessary to deal with immediate threat are slowed down, like i.e. digestion.

Adverse childhood experiences, their lifelong effect and what helps for a better life.

The problem is in case of ongoing adverse childhood experience the stress response is repeatedly activated and can become overactive. That has huge effects.

The early impact on the developing immune system leaves the body prone to heart and pulmonary disease, chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease, like asthma or arthritis.

Brain development is highest in the first three years of life, so early trauma takes effect on how neuronal connections are built. The hippocampus – important for memory and emotional regulation – is found to be smaller and the amygdala – fear center – increased in size. That makes impulse control difficult and leaves you sensitive to perceived threat.

Considering only those few pieces of information we can already imagine the kind of behaviour a kid will show in kindergarden, school or in a sports team. We can imagine the difficulties an adolescent will run into and an adult will face at work, in relating or in being with his own children.

No matter the age those having been exposed to such high stress levels will be quick to anger, getting sick easily when feeling overwhelmed and having major difficulties controling their impulses.

The most powerful resource for children growing up in difficult circumstances
is the presence of a caring adult.

This could be a neighbour, a teacher or you really. At least one nurturing relationship is the best that can happen – and that’s true at any age. Other than that – next to nutrition, sleep, mindfulness etc – sports is really helpful as it helps to metabolize stress hormones and release those counteracting effects of stress.

Understanding is the first and most important step. Then a set of skills can be learned and slowly but surely self-regulation gets easier. This literally is life changing.