Feeling tense and stressed, worried all the time. Anxious, expecting the worst.
Your pulse is faster than allegro vivace. Your thoughts are jumping like kangaroos through the arid Australian outback.
You can’t think or stay focused; constantly on edge.
Your crappy childhood still runs your life.
Will the wounds ever heal?
You want to scream.
When The Moon Is a Green Cheese
You believed that everyone lived like you—humiliated, bullied and criticized. Used as a lightning rod for your mother’s rage. And don’t you complain, girl, or it will be worse!
Drawn into Mother’s reality, you couldn’t relax trying to survive in a toxic environment. Where only Mother’s feelings, thoughts, and needs had a value. And everything that went wrong, was your fault.
Anxious and depressed? Suck it up—children don’t have these kinds of feelings, as I was told.
No compassion or empathy, no adult support.
Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health. – Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
But living on top of an active volcano is never safe.
Your Private Hell
Anxiety and depression followed me since I was little. I couldn’t sleep and I choked on solid food because of a constant tension in the body. Stepping over the lines on the asphalt on the way to school was a normal thing to do. Just like keeping my head down.
Good at hiding how I felt, the emotional pain was always present. Like pain in my stomach and in my back.
But it took me decades to realize that the hell of my childhood has taken a grip on my health.
Here’s what I learned since.
Trauma Erodes Your Health
When you live in fear you can’t escape year after year, your stress response system gets seriously screwed. Even when the danger is no longer there, it keeps you in a fight/flight/freeze mode, shooting stress hormones into your bloodstream like a jammed automatic gun.
You feel overwhelmed, anxious, or panicked.
Stress hormones are running the party negatively affecting your autonomic nervous system, increasing inflammation levels, and weakening your immune system.
As result, they change your physiology and can potentially destroy your health.
The effects of these hormones on the following five areas of your life show why it’s vital to keep hope alive.
#1 Your emotional health
You live with anxiety and depression, worry, shame, guilt, and grief. Feeling helplessness and hopelessness when you need strength. Angry at yourself or the world outside. Maybe numb and lonely, even wishing you were dead.
#2 Your physical health
Childhood trauma may affect your heart, liver, and even your lungs.
A there is a long list of other disorders like lupus, chronic fatigue, thyroid problems, and back pain. Irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and depleted adrenals–they all can be influenced by childhood trauma, according to research.
But there is more.
#3 Your cognitive functions
Your brain’s cognitive functions are also compromised by childhood trauma.
Symptoms like daydreaming and spacing out during stressful moments, forgetfulness or amnesia of past life events can be painful to cope with. Depersonalization and derealization can make you feel like a living dead, and they are also pretty common.
You may experience flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or recurring nightmares, too.
No wonder you can’t concentrate and your thinking is foggy—your mind is either too busy, taking a break or both at the same time.
#4 Your behavior
Childhood trauma survivors, like you and I, often use alcohol and drugs to soothe the pain. Some harm themselves and some are prone to suicide.
Traumatic childhood may have its share in eating disorders, poor money management, excessive shopping and addiction to sex.
All these behaviors offer no solutions but give temporary relief. In the long run, they cause severe damage to your health and may threaten your life.
People exposed to adversity early in life experience changes in the volume of the inferior frontal gyrus that probably can make children more vulnerable to behavioural issues and bad decision-making. –Joan L. Luby, professor at the University of Washington in Missouri, U.S.
#5 Your brain
Trauma changes the brain’s biochemistry and the structure of specific regions. It builds connections that differ from the connections (or circuits) of a healthy brain.
Brain regions that are felt to play an important role in PTSD include hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex. Cortisol and norepinephrine are two neurochemical systems that are critical in the stress response. – J. Douglas Bremner, MD
Want to learn more?
Watch this TED Talk.
What Hope Has to Do With Your Health
Have you ever wondered why some people go through trauma seemingly unscarred, and others fall apart?
Why are some people more resilient than others?
A resilience study showed that:
While exposure to trauma is something that everyone faces sooner or later (and often more than once), it’s the ones who give in despair and lose hope that they can improve their lives who seem to be most at risk for health problems. Having confidence in your own ability to survive may well be the key to overcoming adversity and having a long and normal life. – Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D.
While a little kid depends on the parents for her survival, an adult can survive on her own. You’re not a helpless kid anymore even if it feels that way. You can change your life if you commit to the process.
Keeping your hope alive is an important part of the healing.
Here’s what helped me in the very beginning of my recovery:
- Changing my environment removed daily triggers and eased the stress.
- Learning to trust people gave me caring and supportive friends.
- Learning to manage my negative emotions and thoughts helped me to cope with anxiety and depression.
- Adopting new problem-solving techniques helped me with stress-relief and allowed me to experience more in life.
- Going into therapy helped me to know who I really was.
What has helped you so far?
Happiness Can Be Learned
Your brain can be rewired. As long as you live, it can build new, happier circuits if you choose a healing path. It called neuroplasticity.
…humans have an innate capacity to adapt and positively transform, even after traumatic and stressful events. Most importantly, positive, supportive and healthful activities can contribute to positive wellbeing among adult survivors of childhood adversity. – Shanta R. Dube
There’s always HOPE.
Can Childhood Stress Make You Sick?
The CBT Toolbox: A Workbook for Clients and Clinicians by Jeff RigenbachAct Made Simple: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Russ Harris
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: 7 Ways to Freedom from Anxiety, Depression, and Intrusive Thoughts (Happiness is a trainable, attainable skill! Book 1) by Lawrence Wallace
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.Changing
These 4 Beliefs Will Make You Surprisingly Happy
7 Surprising Books That Will Make Your Life Better
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