How Trauma Impacts Your Body


"If you’ve survived a traumatic incident, ignoring mental health treatment can negatively impact your body."


Often, when someone survives a traumatic incident — such as a sexual assault, police brutality, a hate crime, or a school shooting — the trauma stays with them, even though the danger is gone.

If trauma is left untreated, it can impact your physical health. In other words, if you’ve survived a traumatic incident, ignoring mental health treatment can negatively impact your body.

If you have endured at least one instance of trauma before your 18th birthday, you’re not alone. The rates of childhood trauma are high. According to a 2012 report by the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, more than 60% of children in the United States were exposed to at least one type of violence that year. Additionally, 26% of all U.S. children will experience or witness a traumatic incident before turning 4 years old.

Likewise, children 6 years old and younger can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which might include re-experiencing distress through flashbacks and nightmares; avoidance of people, places, and activities related to a traumatic incident; emotional numbness; and increased arousal through feeling jumpy or being easily irritated, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“Because of what’s happened to you, because of what you’ve experienced, your body may be making more stress hormones than the average person,” Nadine Burke Harris, pediatrician and director of the Center for Youth Wellness, told Teen Vogue.

A previous traumatic incident can haunt your body later in life in different ways due to abnormally high rates of stress. Teen Vogue spoke with Burke Harris, who also wrote The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, about how previous traumatic incidents can impact long-term physical health.

She explained that typically we associate sleeping problems, anxiety, and depression with teens who endure trauma, but she stressed that some teens who've experienced trauma "don’t have any of these symptoms at all.”

“Sometimes [teens will] have abdominal pain, like stomach ache, or headache, or they’ll be getting sick really frequently,” she said. “That’s also something to watch out for. It can be a sign that your body is internalizing the stress — it’s literally getting under your skin and getting [you] sick.”

Oftentimes teenagers — just like adults — can take out their stress on themselves through destructive behaviors such as “drinking, or smoking, or cutting, or other ways of hurting themselves.” But fortunately, since teenagers are coming into their own, they have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves, which can mean being proactive toward their own caregiving.

“The cool thing about teens is that it’s really a time where even if you’ve grown up with a crappy situation, it’s a time when you really start to be able to choose your own destiny and to do things to support yourself,” she said. “It really starts with valuing yourself and doing that self-care. Teenagers tend to doubt themselves, but that’s one of the most important things.”

In The Deepest Well, Burke Harris emphasized the importance of managing sleep, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, mental health, and relationships in those with a history of trauma. By taking a proactive approach to all six, teens can better cope with their past trauma.

“Doing things like downloading the Headspace app on your phone and doing that meditation once or twice a day to help you be able to regulate your system better, and to help you be able to notice when your stress response is overactive,” she said. “If you’re into sports, joining a team and doing that regular exercise, all of those things are really healing.”

By Danielle Corcione | Published by Teen Vogue | Read the article

Chea Davis