It is helpful for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse to engage in activities to help reduce stress. These include self-caring activities, distress tolerance and arousal reducing strategies.
Research suggests that many of the long-term impacts of child abuse result from the chronic neuro-endocrine dysregulation caused by prolonged exposure to abuse and violence (Kendall-Tackett, 2001). The neuro-endocrine system refers to the interaction between our brain/ nervous system and the hormones in our bodies. This system helps regulate our moods, our stress response, our immune system, and our digestion, amongst other things. Any disruption to the neuro-endocrine system can affect a range of basic psychological and physiological functions.
Exposure to trauma, abuse and violence in childhood can cause physiological changes. The bodies of children who are being abused react and adapt to the unpredictable and dangerous environments to which they are exposed (Cozolino, 2002). Their nervous systems run constantly on high as they anticipate further danger; this floods the body with fight-or-flight hormones. This state of chronic “hyper-arousal” persists for many survivors throughout their adult years as well. Even when the trauma, abuse and violence has ceased and the environment is ‘safe’, many trauma survivors still perceive the threat to be present and remain fearful (Giarratano, 2004b).
Chronic hyper-arousal disrupts the delicate balance within the neuro-endocrine system, a state referred to as neuro-endocrine dysregulation and this can affect both the body and the mind.
The good news is that a range of interventions and skills can promote healthy neuro-endocrine function. Engaging in activities that reduce stress -- such as self-caring activities, distress tolerance strategies and arousal reducing strategies have been established to normalise the nervous system and balance hormone levels.