Can the effects of stress last a lifetime?

Can the effects of stress last a lifetime?

New research suggests stress can be more harmful to your health when you had both a traumatic childhood and are under heavy stress later in life.

A new study published in Psychological Science studied how childhood and adulthood stress affects people’s release of cortisol, often called the “stress hormone.” Their results suggested that childhood trauma can help “calibrate” how your brain responds to stress later in life.

“What we find is that the amount of a person’s exposure to early life stress plays an important role in the development of unhealthy patterns of cortisol release,” psychological scientist and study author Ethan Young said in a statement. “However, this is only true if individuals also are experiencing higher levels of current stress.”

Dr. Munther Barakat, a psychologist for Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, Wis., says the study “further demonstrates the importance of understanding the connection between our psychosocial experiences and our biology.”

“It also gives us more of an appreciation of how trauma can have lasting effects on individuals, in particular with childhood trauma,” Dr. Barakat says. “This should continue to feed into the movement in various fields to be more trauma-informed and for clinicians to use more evidence-based models when working with individuals who have been exposed to trauma.”

He suggests if you’re feeling heavy stress as an adult – especially if you’ve had traumatic childhood experiences – you should consider talking to a professional who can help you navigate it.

“If you’re experiencing symptoms after a traumatic experience during early childhood in adulthood, that is an indication you need treatment,” Dr. Barakat says. “There are treatments designed specifically to target those who experienced trauma and have symptoms related to this.”

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About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.