My own resting heart rate, which is usually at least 105 beats per minute, according to my GP, ‘is nothing to worry about.’
Since a resting heart rate of above is technically classified as ‘tachycardia’ (an abnormally fast-beating heart), it seems to me it is something to worry about – presumably my GP’s intent was to play things down so that I did not become anxious about it as this, in turn, perhaps, could have raised it further still.
Anyway, I suggested I started taking beta-blockers and she kindly acquiesced to this modest request (though, not untypically, they appear not to work on me).
CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND TACHYCARDIA :
Studies show that children who have been so badly mistreated so as to go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have increased nervous system reactivity which is associated with being in a state of hypervigilance as if perpetually trapped in the ‘fight/flight response.
In order to investigate this phenomenon further, Perry conducted a study of 34 children who had an average age of ten years and had been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD.
FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY :
Perry found that 85% of the children in this study (whom, as described above, had been diagnosed with PTSD) had an average resting heart rate of 94 beats per minute. This is significantly higher than the resting heart rate of the average ten-year-old child, which is only 84 beats per minute.
This established, the children were then required to undertake a simple task : they were required to lie down for 9 minutes and then stand up for a further 10 minutes.
Amongst the whole group of children who took part in this simple experiment, two distinct patterns of heart rate emerged.
PATTERN ONE :
- A higher-than-control basal heart rate whilst lying down.
- A dramatic increase in heart rate upon standing up.
- A slow return, during the ten-minute period of standing up, to the baseline heart rate.
PATTERN TWO :
- A normal increase in heart rate upon standing up.
- A sluggish return to the baseline heart rate.
FURTHER STUDY :
Perry (1999) later built upon this study by carrying out the following experiment :
- Children were interviewed about their experiences of abuse.
- Throughout the interview, their heart rates were continuously monitored.
RESULTS OF FURTHER STUDY :
- Certain children (who were mainly female and many of whom suffered from symptoms of dissociation) showed a REDUCTION in heart rate during the interview (when compared to their heart rate during a period of free play).
- However, another group of children from the study (who suffered from symptoms of hyperarousal) showed an INCREASED heart rate during the interview (when compared to their heart rate during a period of free play).
From these findings, it was concluded that children may respond to their experiences of trauma in one of two ways :
- By ‘shutting down’ emotionally, resulting in physiological under-reactions to stress.
- By becoming emotionally hyperaroused, resulting in physiological over-reactions in response to stress.
You can read more about these two contrasting traumatic responses in my previously published article entitled: Two Opposite Ways The Child Responds To Stress: Hyperarousal And Dissociation.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).