Prolonged or repeated exposure to stress can cause changes to the way the brain regulates hormones and transmits messages throughout the body. These changes can lead to premature aging of the body which in turn increases the risk of early death. (Corso, 2008)
Levine states that trauma can cause bronchitis, asthma, migraine, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic neck and back pain, gastrointestinal problems, paralysis, blindness, deafness and can even make a person mute.
The impacts of adverse childhood experiences can still be evident 50 years after the initial experience (Felliti, 2004) and while the effects have obvious implications for psychological, biological, social, educational and cognitive functioning, the opportunity for ‘crossover’ is also vast. For example, physical damage to a developing brain caused by exposure to prolonged, extreme stress can have further implications in creating cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. This in turn, may lead to educational and learning challenges, depression, and high risk behaviours which may then lead to physical health issues. (Child Welfare Information Gateway , 2008)
Van derKolk, et al., (1996) described the following long term effects of trauma:
- Generalized hyper arousal and difficulty in modulating arousal
- Aggression against self and others
- Inability to modulate sexual impulses
- Problems with social attachments – excessive dependence or isolation
- Alterations in neurobiological processes involved in stimulus discrimination
- Problems with attention and concentration
- Conditioned fear responses to trauma related stimuli
- Loss of trust, hope, and a sense of personal agency
- Social avoidance
- Loss of meaningful attachments
- Lack of participation in preparing for the future
Other long term impacts of trauma include: depression, mental illness, suicide attempts, early initiation of smoking, alcoholism and alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, obesity, early initiation of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners and sexually transmitted diseases, adolescent and unintended pregnancy, foetal death, risk for intimate partner violence, heart disease, cancer, obesity, multiple somatic symptoms, autoimmune disease, lung disease, liver disease, sleep disturbances, problems with work and relationships, and a much higher risk of re-victimisation. (CDC, 2011)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that affects many survivors of trauma and is usually diagnosed if the symptoms last for more than 30 days. (A.D.A.M. Inc, 2011) For many survivors, these symptoms persist throughout life and often go undiagnosed. Hyper-vigilance is also common in survivors of trauma and they tend to have a highly tuned intuition and awareness of people and situations. Many survivors may have huge gaps in developmental construct and there may be day-to-day living skills they have never had the chance to learn. There may also be dysfunction of the core self, under or over-regulated emotions and learning deficits.
While the effects of trauma may impact in areas of functioning that seem far removed from the trauma, viewing trauma as the major causal influence of symptoms can help to empower people to heal themselves with support, love and validation in a safe, non-judgmental, and caring environment. Heal for Life runs regular programs to help people heal from their trauma and deal with their outward symptoms.