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Can Childhood Trauma Cause Anxiety? Yes and Here's Why

Childhood trauma can have a long-lasting effect on an individual's mental health. The impact of childhood trauma on mental health is significant and can lead to anxiety, as well as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other issues.


Traumatic experiences can be caused by a single, isolated incident, like an accident or attack. They can also result from repeated events such as abuse or neglect in childhood which may have long-term effects in adulthood.


Complex trauma is typically caused by these repetitive experiences and its impacts can be felt throughout an individual's life.


Trauma in early childhood can be especially harmful. Early childhood trauma generally means trauma between birth and the age of six. A child’s brain grows and develops rapidly, especially in the first three years. Young children are also very dependent on the caregivers for care, nurture and protection. This can make young children especially vulnerable to trauma. When trauma occurs early it can affect a child’s development. It can also affect their ability to attach securely, especially when their trauma occurs with a caregiver.


Trauma can have a profound impact on our mental health. They can shape how we think, feel and behave in our everyday lives.
Trauma can have a profound impact on our mental health and shape how we think, feel and behave in our everyday lives.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health childhood trauma is defined as:

“The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects." (National Institute of Mental Health)

Trauma can be caused by a variety of events such as abuse, neglect, bullying, or witnessing violence. It can also be caused by natural disasters or other traumatic events.


Here is a list of 15 examples of trauma:

  1. Accidents

  2. Bullying and/or cyberbullying

  3. Chaos or dysfunction in the house

  4. Domestic violence

  5. A parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated

  6. Death of a loved one

  7. Emotional abuse or neglect

  8. Physical abuse or neglect

  9. Separation from a parent or caregiver

  10. Parental alienation

  11. Sexual abuse

  12. Stress caused by poverty

  13. Sudden and/or serious medical condition

  14. Violence (at home, at school, or in the surrounding community)

  15. War/terrorism

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma, you’re not alone. Childhood trauma can have a lasting impact on our lives, leaving us feeling isolated and overwhelmed. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone in this experience. There are countless other individuals who have gone through similar hardships and there is help available.


The Neuroscience Behind the Impact of Trauma

Trauma has a long-lasting effect on the brain. It can affect an individual's physical and mental health, as well as their ability to cope with stressful situations. The neuroscience behind the impact of trauma on the brain is complex and still largely unknown. Studies have shown that childhood trauma can lead to changes in how the brain functions, including changes in brain structure and chemistry. These changes can manifest in symptoms such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues.


Emotional abuse is another form of trauma that can have serious long-term effects on the brain. It can cause changes in areas of the brain responsible for emotion regulation, leading to difficulty managing emotions and increased risk for developing mental health issues later in life. Additionally, it has been linked to cognitive deficits such as poor memory or problem solving skills.


What are the effects of trauma on the body?

Trauma can have a devastating impact on the body, both physically and psychologically. It can cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension, fatigue, headaches, and difficulty sleeping.


Moreover, it can leave an individual with deep psychological scars that can be difficult to overcome. Every year, over 1.8 million people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that can develop following a life-threatening event. Many survivors exhibit symptoms such as insomnia, flashbacks, and anxiety. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for PTSD sufferers to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.


Trauma is a Greek word for wound. Literally that's what it means. So when you understand that, then you realise...trauma is not what happens to you. According to renowned speaker and bestselling author, Gabor Maté in his book The Myth of Normal trauma is defined as:

'Trauma is not what happens to you...it is what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. Trauma is not the event that inflicted the wound. So, the trauma is not the sexual abuse, the trauma is not the war. Trauma is not the abandonment. The trauma is not the inability of your parents to see you for who you were. Trauma is the wound that you sustained as a result."

Common Symptoms and Types of Anxiety Derived from Trauma

Trauma can have a profound impact on our mental health. Trauma can shape how we think, feel and behave in our everyday lives. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues that can be derived from traumatic early life experiences. It is a feeling of fear or worry that can range from mild to severe and can interfere with daily activities.


There are many different types of anxiety that come from trauma and early life experiences such as:

  • Social anxiety

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

  • Panic disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Each type of anxiety has its own unique symptoms and causes which may include past trauma, genetic predisposition or environmental factors. Trauma can have a lasting effect on an individual and can lead to symptoms such as fear, panic attacks, avoidance behaviors, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms are often seen in individuals who have experienced some form of trauma during their childhood or adolescence.


It is important to recognise the symptoms of anxiety so that it can be treated effectively. Understanding the different types of anxiety and their causes will help us better understand how to cope with them in order to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.


How to Treat Anxiety Grounded in Trauma

Anxiety caused by childhood trauma can be a devastating and debilitating condition. Fortunately, there are several treatments available to help those affected by this condition manage their symptoms. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for anxiety related to early life experiences. It helps individuals identify and challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that may be contributing to their anxiety.


Additionally, medications such as antidepressants may be prescribed to help reduce the intensity of symptoms. Other approaches such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation, and yoga can also be beneficial in managing anxiety from childhood trauma.


According to a 2014 research review, Trauma Focused CBT was an effective means of decreasing symptoms of PTSD in some kids. The American Psychological Association (APA) highly endorses utilising forms of CBT to treat PTSD.


Even though childhood trauma can have serious, devastating effects, both trauma and anxiety disorders are treatable. If you think your anxiety may be rooted in childhood trauma, you can try treatments that specifically help you address the traumatic events. Childhood trauma can have serious and long-lasting effects on an individual's mental health. However, it is important to recognise that trauma and anxiety disorders are treatable conditions.


With the help of a qualified mental health professional, you can take steps towards healing from childhood trauma and managing your anxiety more effectively.


Get the support you need and book a free 15 minute Discovery Call at Better You HQ.



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