Tag Archives: Stress

More on How Trauma and Stress can Affect the Child’s Developing Brain.

Our brains developed over millions of years of evolution. Different parts of the modern human brain evolved at different periods of this enormous time span.

The most primitive part of the modern brain, which evolved first, is known, rather unflatteringly, as the REPTILIAN brain. This part of our brain is ‘in charge’ of BASIC SURVIVAL PROCESSES such as the physiological aspects of the well-known FIGHT/FLIGHT RESPONSE such as heart rate.

In contrast, the part of our brain which developed most recently (the NEOCORTEX) is involved with HIGHER LEVEL PROCESSING such as complex learning, talking and forming relationships with others.

Children who experience CHRONIC and SEVERE TRAUMA as they are growing up automatically UTILIZE THE MORE PRIMITIVE PART OF THE BRAIN FAR MORE THAN NORMAL as they are driven by the adverse environment that they inhabit to FOCUS ON SURVIVAL

This comes at the expense of the development of the regions of the brain concerned with higher level mental functioning – indeed, this part of the brain can become SIGNIFICANTLY UNDER-UTILIZED, thus IMPAIRING ITS DEVELOPMENT. This can lead to the child:

– developing a brain which is smaller than normal

– developing less neural connection in the parts of the brain involved with higher level mental processing.

In short, then, the primitive part of the brain becomes OVER-EXERCISED, whilst the part of the brain which has most recently evolved becomes UNDER-EXERCISED.


The three regions of the brain shown above evolved at different times in our evolutionary history – the most primitive part is called the REPTILIAN BRAIN and controls our basic survival mechanisms. The most recently evolved part is the NEOCORTEX which is involved in higher level mental processes such as abstract thought.




This results in the child becoming HYPER-SENSITIVE to the ADVERSE EFFECTS OF STRESS.

Because of this, such a child is far less able to deal with stress (i.e. s/he has a far lower stress- tolerance threshold) than children who have been fortunate enough to grow up in a more benign environment (all else being equal).


Such dramatic responses are especially likely if the triggering event reminds the child, however indirectly, of the original experience of trauma.

Children suffering from such a condition may:

– have great difficulty concentrating/focussing their attention

– experience high levels of restlessness and agitation

– have high levels of anxiety

– behave aggressively/violently when under stress

– bully others (often, subconsciously, to gain a sense of control in a world in which they feel essentially powerless).



If the child develops PTSD as a result of his/her traumatic experiences his/her body will develop a chronic tendency to OVER-PRODUCE STRESS HORMONES (e.g. cortisol) on a day-to-day basis which may INTERFERE WITH HIS/HER ABILITY TO LEARN.



dissociation (‘zoning out’)

arrested development (e.g. suddenly stops talking)

nightmares/night terrors

– frequent waking during the night

– violent play (e.g. acting out violent scenarios with toys)

– frequent drawing/painting of extremely violent scenes

bed wetting

– somatic complaints (e.g. stomach aches, headaches etc)

– anxiety/depression

– general behavioural problems / acting out

– problem drinking/drug use



However, the positive news is that, because of an innate quality of the brain called NEUROPLASTICITY, it is able to repair and ‘rewire’ itself, thus reversing the damage done in childhood. The following experiences may help this to happen:

– physical activity

– the development of new skills

– relaxation and avoidance of stress

– healthy, pleasurable experiences

– the development of warm, emotionally fulfilling relationships

– enjoyable social activity

On the other hand, the following are likely to hinder recovery:

– continued exposure to stress

– substance misuse

(Click here to read more about this).



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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


Fifteen Emotional Symptoms of Stress

symptoms of stress

If we have suffered long-lasting significant stress when we were children it is very likely to have affected the physical development of our brains in an adverse manner which makes it very much harder to cope with the effects of even minor stress as adults. On an emotional level, we react far more intensely to it than those whose brain development was normal (click here to read my article on how childhood stress affects the physical development of the brain).


In this post, I therefore thought it might be helpful to list some of the main emotional symptoms we might have indicating that we are suffering the effects of stress.

Before I do this, however, I should also point out that when we are finding it difficult to cope with the effects of stress it affects other aspects of ourselves, too – not just our emotions. It also affects us physically and how we behave.

It is important to point out that different people are affected by stress in different ways. In some, the symptoms of stress may be obviously apparent (overt), whilst in others they may be hidden or ‘invisible’ (covert). Furthermore, in some individuals the symptoms may be short-term, whilst in others they may be long-term (i.e. chronic). The warning signs that someone is suffering the effects of excessive stress may include headaches, chest discomfort, indigestion, muscle tension (physical symptoms) or behavioural symptoms (e.g. physical aggression, increased alcohol intake etc).

However, in this post I want to focus on EMOTIONAL SYMPTOMS OF STRESS, and, in keeping with the title of this post, I list 15 of these below :

– inability to feel pleasure (psychologists sometimes refer to this as anhedonia)

– feelings of aggression towards others

– feelings of frustration

– a tendency to become easily tearful

– feeling constantly under intense pressure

– increased feelings of suspicion

– increased feelings of irritability and increased likeliness to complain

– more easily triggered ‘fight/flight’ impulse and feelings of wanting to ‘hide away.’

– feeling in a constant state of fear

– finding it hard to make decisions

– a feeling of being mentally drained and exhausted

– feeling tense, agitated and unable to relax

– impaired ability to concentrate

– social self-consciousness

– fears of imminent death, ‘madness’ or collapse


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).