Examining Stress And Relaxation In Relation To Childhood Trauma


I spent many years in a state of unremitting, merciless, tormenting and excruciating agitation so I am all too familiar with how devastating and utterly debilitating the effects of stress can be.

Indeed, I was left almost totally unable to function, even in the most basic ways. Powerful psychiatric drugs and ECT failed to alleviate this intense mental suffering. Unable to stand it, I made a suicide attempt which very nearly succeeded (if ‘succeeded’ is the word we are looking for).

I have written before about how those of us who have experienced significant childhood trauma very frequently become far more susceptible to the adverse effects of stress in adulthood than do those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable and secure upbringing. This can be due to damage to the part of the brain called the amygdala, which can occur if we were subjected to severe and enduring stress as children.

Our stress response to events, circumstances, and experiences in our lives is largely an automatic one – we do not consciously choose to feel stressed.

When we are stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure go up and we go into fight or flight mode. However, when we relax chemicals are released into the brain that counteracts this stress response.

Three Main Ways To Reduce Stress And Relax:

It is possible to cultivate our ability to relax in the following ways:

1) By using relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and self-hypnosis

2) By performing activities such as exercise, sport or taking a hot bath

3) By changing our attitude (eg seeing problems as challenges)

We are most likely to relieve our stress by addressing it using all of the above methods in a three-pronged attack.

Stress, Relaxation, And The Autonomic Nervous System:

Our autonomic nervous system encompasses:

a) the sympathetic nervous system

b) the parasympathetic nervous system

– Activation of the sympathetic nervous system makes us feel stressed (eg leads to raised heartbeat and blood pressure)

– Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes us (eg reduces heart rate and blood pressure)

So, the key to relaxation is to :


Some Common Causes And Effects Of Stress:

Research suggests that, as regards everyday life, the most common sources of stress are:

a) financial concerns

b) family

c) work/career issues

In relation to the common effects of stress:

a) 40% of people report either over-eating or under-eating due to stress

b) 50% of people report having been awake all night during the last month as a result of stress (although it is known that some people believe and feel they haven’t slept at all when, in fact, they have had at least some fitful/light sleep/dozing).


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