Have you ever thought about how your childhood experiences are still affecting your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing today? I have been a part of various heart-healing ministries for almost two decades, and they all emphasize healing from the trauma of the past to live freely in the present and future.
I think heart healing is beautiful, and it’s so interesting to see more studies coming out about how childhood experiences (or childhood traumas) still affect almost every part of our adult lives. In this blog, we’re going to talk about adverse childhood experiences, what they are, and how yours may have a detrimental impact on your health now and in the future.
What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic events that happen before someone is 18 years old. Trauma can come in many forms, but for it to be considered adverse, it falls into one of these categories:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Physical or emotional neglect
- Parent separation or divorce
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Having a parent with a substance abuse problem
- Having an incarcerated parent
- Having a parent with a mental illness
Until the last few years, trauma like this has only been thought of as a social or mental health problem. However, studies are now showing a correlation between the number of ACEs someone experiences and their health risks throughout life.
ACEs and Physical Health
According to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Surgeon General of California, trauma is proven to affect the hormonal system, heart health, risk of developing diseases, life expectancy, brain development, the immune system, how DNA is read and transcribed, and more. You can watch Dr. Harris’s full TedTalk about ACEs here.
How does trauma affect our physical health? It’s all about our stress response. Traumatic events trigger the amygdala, the part of the brain that turns on the body’s fear response. This response is helpful when you are running away from a life-threatening situation, like a tiger chasing you, but it becomes dangerous when you start experiencing stress from trauma all the time and on a consistent basis.
Trauma also inhibits the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotions, memory, attention, and other important functions. This is even more alarming for children since the prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until you are 25 years old.
Through an extensive study, the CDC determined that the more ACEs someone experiences, the more health risks they have throughout their lifetime. For instance, the number of ACEs that participants had directly correlated to their risk of heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the United States.
ACEs Screening and Treatments
As a pediatrician, once Dr. Harris learned the connection between trauma and increased health risks, she started doing health screenings on her patients that measured how their trauma was impacting their health.
She used an ACEs test to determine how many traumatic events her patients had experienced, and for children with more ACEs, her office implemented the following treatment protocols:
- Home visits
- Care coordination
- Nutrition intervention
- Mental health care
- Holistic interventions
- Medicine when necessary
They also tailored care towards children with diabetes or asthma since they had higher health risks, and they educated the parents in the community about the effects of trauma and stress on children.
Early intervention for children is important; however, you can still heal from trauma and its impact on your health as an adult.
What is Your ACE Score?
Studies show that health risks follow children with ACEs throughout their entire lives. Unfortunately, most people experienced at least one adverse childhood experience when they were growing up, and many people experience more than one.
The data does not single out specific demographics; ACEs can impact anyone. Dr. Robert Block, the former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that “adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”
How can you address your childhood trauma and safeguard your health now and in the future? The first step is to take the ACEs quiz to determine how many ACEs you experienced while you were growing up. This quiz may bring up some terrible memories, so it’s important to give yourself time and space to take it thoughtfully.
Once you know your ACE score, you can begin working through your trauma, and you can address how your experiences are affecting your overall health.
Next Steps to Improve Your Health and Heal From Childhood Trauma
I am a big proponent of both heart healing and psychotherapy. You may feel like you are past the trauma of your childhood and don’t need to talk to a professional about it, but these studies show that your experiences could be impacting you in ways that you do not even realize.
I recommend seeing a counselor or therapist because I don’t think you should rely on your friends and family to do the therapy for you. They can support you, but they do not have the professional skills and training to help you unpack your childhood and address it in a healthy way.
Along with heart healing and therapy, I think it’s important to stay on top of your physical health. Now that you know you may have a higher risk for developing diseases due to your trauma, you can take steps to stay healthy. If you can, work with healthcare professionals such as doctors, nutritionists, and health coaches to create a plan to address your physical health needs.
One of the most important ways to improve your health is to learn to reduce your stress level. Things such as self-care, meditation, exercise and relaxation techniques help with this so much. Learning how to live with our body in a more regulated and relaxed state helps tremendously with lower stress levels.
Lastly, consider your mental health. Are you experiencing anxiety or depression? Talk to a therapist or psychiatrist about this. There are several great holistic interventions they can advise you to try, and there is no shame in taking mental health medication when it’s necessary.
We can heal from our childhood trauma, and I hope that as more research comes out, there are even more resources to help people understand the connection between their trauma and their overall health. I encourage you to follow the action steps above because you deserve to live a life free from the pain of your past experiences. I also want you to live a long and healthy life, and I think addressing your ACEs is a key component to unlocking your true self.
I would love to help you through heart-healing ministry. Schedule a one-on-one session today to start your healing journey.
Author: Anna Harris