Those who struggle with memories and bodily effects of childhood trauma won’t be surprised by the news in The Winnipeg Free Press today. Hypervigilance, which is a super-aware-alertness to the world around, with particular attention to impending danger is exhausting, and wears on a body. Those who grew up in a chaotic, dangerous household, that became frightening at irregular intervals know what I’m writing about. That hypervigilance was hugely adaptive as a child–it got a child through scary situations in their life…helping them to anticipate dangerous situations and then be able to help prevent disaster (e.g. find ways of keeping a drunk dad from going into a rage by doing things that would keep him happy and work to prevent triggers that could have him fly into a rage), or seek safety (e.g. to run and hide in the garage, or under the bed). But a body learns that hypervigiliance as a coping strategy and learns it well…and there is no “turning it off” and it continues to be present in a body, even when life becomes safer.
“Childhood abuse may be a predictor for heart disease in adult life, suggests a study published this week by the University of Toronto…further research needs to be conducted to be able to explain physiologically why childhood physical abuse may trigger heart disease. One theory is that victimized children have to relate to how much cortisol, also known as the “fight or flight” or stress hormone they have in their bodies.
“These children are more likely to be always alert, they can’t relax and become more vulnerable to stress because they worry whether they will be abused,” she said. “Some literature has indicated that people with heart disease have higher rates of cortisol.”
Another theory is that people with more stress are also more likely to have chronic inflammation, which is shown to be at higher rates in heart disease patients. “Child abuse is just one factor of many,” said Fuller-Thomson. “I don’t want people who experienced abuse to feel like they’ve been condemned to have heart disease. They have slightly higher odds and just need to be more vigilant in monitoring their weight and checking their blood pressure.”
(Bolded emphasis mine)
Childhood trauma is not a cardiac death sentence. This rather serves as a voice of powerful understanding and validation to those who feel the stress in their bodies even decades after the trauma.