Have you ever gone through a particularly stressful time period, and found yourself constantly sick with colds and viruses? Did you grow up with traumatic events in your life or the lives of your family members? Then one day as an adult, you find yourself getting ill, and staying ill with one or more chronic illnesses? Mere coincidence? Or something more? This post explores the link between trauma and chronic illnesses.
Research shows there is a link between trauma, especially during childhood, and getting chronic illnesses later in life. This link was discovered during the Kaiser Permanente/Centers For Disease Control’s research study in the 1990’s. You can read about that study here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/breaking-the-silence/201901/adverse-childhood-experiences
One Expert On the Link Between Trauma/Chronic Illness
Veronique Mead, MD. MA is a somatic psychologist who believes that:
In terms of mind and body, extreme weather reflects a history of emotionally overwhelming experiences such as trauma and early bonding disruptions. As a result of life-threatening experiences, the nervous system becomes conditioned to perceive its environment as threatening, and responds appropriately to this perception by using equally extreme measures of defense: such as fight, flight, or freeze.”
In other words, early childhood trauma can re-wire our nervous systems to always be on high alert. When we spend years living in high alert mode, our bodies struggle to maintain everything in good working order. That’s why there’s an increased risk for chronic illnesses as we get older.
Veronique believes that our bodies are responding with what makes sense at the time. That being on high alert “is an intelligent response.” It’s just that being on high alert is not needed anymore. As a somatic psychologist she helps people to “deactivate the perception of threat, which retrains the nervous system so it knows the difference between safety and danger today, and danger that is long past.”
I recently finished watching a series of 18 webinars on Healing From Childhood Trauma hosted by Avaiya University. I listened to 18 different experts discuss how adverse childhood events can rewire our brains, and get us stuck in Fight/Flight/Freeze Mode. They all spoke of the adaptability of our brains to grow, and change even as adults. Because of that ability in our nervous systems, we can heal from our adverse events, and learn new ways of coping in this world.
None of these speakers promised complete healing of our conditions, but they do report a decrease in symptoms for many of their clients. The biggest take-away was this hope that we could improve our health by processing traumatic events in our lives.
People’s Stories Of Trauma/Chronic Illness
Next, I’m sharing two people’s real stories of how trauma affected their health.
Rachel shares her story of how assault as a young adult led to severe asthma: How Trauma and Asthma are Connected and Nobody Seems to Talk About It.
Veronique Mead shares her Chronic Illness Story here: 8 Things I Learned About Trauma After Being Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness
In the above post, Veronique also shares how having a chronic illness, can make us prone to receiving more trauma from hospital stays, and procedures we have to undergo. The stress of traumatic hospital stays and medical procedures, can then make our symptoms worse.
Last but not least, I don’t want to just tell you about this link between our health and trauma. I want to give you some beginning tips to help. So, below is a video with two techniques to help us feel safe when we’re triggered.
Beginning Techniques to Help You Feel Safe
The following video is a discussion between the therapist at Therapy In a Nutshell and a physician about how trauma gets stuck in our bodies if we are unable to fight or flee. At 31:15 the doctor walks us through an exercise to help move trauma out of our bodies.
Wrap Up Of Trauma & Chronic Illnesses
Finally, I think that I’ve just uncovered the tip of the iceberg on this topic. It’s going to take me awhile to digest all this information. If you, too, had trauma in your past, go slowly. There is no pressure to deal with these things in a hurry. Go at your own pace.
If you have any techniques or activities that help you deal with the trauma in your background; or with medical trauma, I’d love to hear what you have to say below.
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Till next time, Kathy