How do Past Stresses affect our Present Health and Wellbeing?
I recently listened to the Radio 4 Program entitled “Unhappy Child, Unhealthy Adult”. It focussed on the latest research that links traumatic childhood events to physical health problems later in life. What shocked me, as I’m sure it shocked many was just how much traumatic childhood events impacted on long term physical health. In fact one study estimated that if there were enough traumatic events it could shorten life expectancy by as much as 20 years. The show talked about how physical health was dramatically impacted in adults who had experienced traumatic events in their early life, not just emotional and mental health.
It made me ask the question: What is trauma and how would I know if trauma had a lasting effect on me? Having worked with literally thousands of people, many of whom have trauma in their history, how does trauma embody and what are the long term consequences?
One of the traditional ways of evaluating the impact of emotional or mental trauma is to look at someone’s posture. We all know without thinking what the posture of a bullied child would look like. Or a teenager with self-esteem challenge? Or the tall girl who towers over her peers and does everything not to be noticed. These postures reflect an inner state. It’s how their body has adapted to the events that have happened combined with the feedback they’ve had from their peer group or the media.
So what if I’ve not had Major Stress?
So when I listened to the program a voice inside of me said “but I’ve had loads of back pain yet I had a happy childhood, with loving parents who are still happily married – why me?”
It is a question that is totally valid. We work with a wide range of people, some of whom had traumatic childhoods, and many of whom didn’t.
So I recalled an event that happened about 6 months ago when a close friend really hurt me by her actions. And then I checked in with my body. I felt tense, my posture had dropped a bit and my energy was flagging. The more I focused on the event, the worse my energy got and t reminded me that we all see trauma in different ways.
For example, think of the friend you know who is still angry with her ex who ran off with his secretary. What happens in her body every time she thinks of him with the other woman? And what about the child who was very tall as a teenager or the girl who grew breasts before all her friends. Both of them developed poor posture, to “hide” themselves away. And if you were to ask them how their teenage years were, they may not have the greatest memory. And for some, that posture remains. They stay lacking confidence and self-belief as they progress into adult and some of them develop pain or struggle with energy as they get older.
How your Past affects your Present?
So it’s partly about how we recall things. And some people seem more affected by seemingly minor events than others. How our physiology is affected by events that are long gone, but may still have an impact on our posture, how we hold ourselves, how we behave and our self-perception. So much of this is held in our body and impacts on our current life, even though the events happened many years ago, often decades. It’s like our body believes the event is still happening, even though all the cells in our body have been replaced many years ago.
So how does my past affect my present and how do I measure it?
I guess the answer to this depends on who you ask. Psychologists will have a whole host of questionnaires they use to evaluate emotional and mental stressors. We’re interested in how it impacts on your physiology and physical health. So we use the latest technology, originally developed to evaluate astronauts pre and post space visits. You can learn a lot about someone by measuring Surface Electromyography, Thermography and Heart Rate Variability. Combined with a digital Posture Exam and a manual chiropractic spinal evaluation a huge amount of data can be measured to see how your past affected your present state and importantly evaluate how well you heal.
If you want to read more on these technologies, click here.
But first, ask yourself – what memories still trigger me? How good is my posture? How do I respond to challenging people or events in my life and am I repeating any patterns here? How well do I feel and when did things start to go wrong? Are their injuries or events I can’t heal from?
I personally believe that Unhappy Child, Unhealthy Adult doesn’t have to be true but only time will tell……