How Chronic Stress Affects The Brain – How Trauma and Chronic Stress Affect Development Brain injury changes the developing brain, causing behavioral and mental health problems. Under prolonged exposure to stress, resources are diverted from the “thinking” part of the brain to their living centers. Here, learn how to best support stressed children and young people who have been exposed to traumatic events.

Impaired working memory, executive dysfunction, uncontrolled emotions, risky behavior, and school challenges are defining symptoms of ADHD – and common manifestations of trauma in children and adolescents. Science tells us that exposure to traumatic events and chronic stress undoubtedly affects children’s brains, but experience tells us that external symptoms are rarely visible or readily available.

How Chronic Stress Affects The Brain

Understanding trauma and how it affects the developing brain is critical to recognizing red flags and supporting traumatized children and youth in the heat of the moment – and as they recover.

Ways Chronic Stress Can Affect Your Brain And Body

Trauma is a significant, emotional shock that follows a single stressful event or a series of them. There are several types of trauma, usually separated by the duration and frequency of related traumatic events.

That said, all traumatic events, environments, and experiences share one thing in common: they undermine a child’s sense of safety and stability. They may include the following:

Researchers refer to potentially traumatic events in terms of “adverse childhood events,” or ACEs. ACES can lead to toxic stress buildup, or overactivation of the body’s stress response systems.

Trauma is complex and multifaceted. Not everything that is stressful is necessarily traumatic. And what hurts a child or a teenager may not hurt another. For example, a child who is genetically predisposed to depression may be affected differently by negative situations than a child who is not predisposed.

Physical Effects Of Stress On The Body: What To Know

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has a close relationship with the dynamics of trauma. Children with ADHD, for example, are at greater risk of developing ACEs than children without ADHD.

ADHD is more common in children from families living below the poverty line, and poverty, as we know, is related to trauma.

Think of the brain as a peach. The limbic system is associated with the survival functions of the brain – heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, etc. The fleshy part of the brain (that is, the prefrontal cortex) is where the highest functions – problem- solving, transforming, planning, etc. – live. The cavity is complete when we are born, and the fleshy part grows over time.

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In a healthy brain, these parts work together seamlessly and get enough “fuel” to function and thrive. But under stress and exposure to trauma, the brain – under threat – effectively goes into survival mode. It puts more fuel and resources into the brain and moves them away from the brain. The prefrontal cortex in the developing brain is, therefore, more sensitive to the effects of stress.

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The brain cavity holds under stress for a long time; The physical, “thinking” and controlling part of the brain is not working. Children who experience trauma or chronic stress often exhibit the following behavioral symptoms and problems (not an exhaustive list):

When children experience early trauma, the impact on brain development may be seen in later years, when academic and social demands increase, and brain function is not as “online” as expected to meet those demands.

Many of the trauma symptoms listed above are also symptoms of ADHD. In addition, children with ADHD may be more sensitive to the effects of traumatic stress.

Various methods, from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to cognitive exercises, can help cope with trauma and shift the brain from survival mode, even in children with ADHD.

Pdf) What Stress Is Doing To Your Brain

Parents and other caring, trusted adults in a child’s life (from older siblings and sports coaches to teachers and other role models) also play a large role in shaping a child’s response to trauma and preventing its effects.

The content of this article is taken, in part, from the ADDitude Mental Health Out Loud episode titled, “How Stress and Trauma Affect Brain Development” [Video Replay and Podcast #407] with Cheryl Chase, Ph.D., which aired live on June 23, 2022 .

Thanks for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider registering. Your reading and support help make our content and communication possible. Thank you.

1 Jacob, G., van den Heuvel, M., Jama, N., Moore, A. M., Ford-Jones, L., & Wong, P. D. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences: Basics for the pediatrician. Pediatrics and Child Health, 24(1), 30–37. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/pxy043

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2 Hughes, K., Bellis, M. A., Hardcastle, K. A., Sethi, D., Butchart, A., Mikton, C., Jones, L., & Dunne, M. P. (2017). The impact of multiple adverse childhood experiences on health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet. Public Health, 2(8), e356–e366. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30118-4

3 Schmidt C. W. (2007). Nature communication: a critical look at mental illness. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(8), A404–A410. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.115-a404

4 Brown, N. M., Brown, S. N., Briggs, R. D., Germán, M., Belamarich, P. F., & Oyeku, S. O. (2017). Associations Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and ADHD Diagnosis and Severity. Academic Pediatrics, 17(4), 349–355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2016.08.013

5 Zablotsky B, Alford JM. Racial and ethnic differences in the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities among US children aged 3-17. NCHS Data Brief, no. 358. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2020.

Stress And How It Effects Your Brain

6 Arnsten A. F. (2009). Mechanisms of exposure to stress that impair the structure and function of the prefrontal cortex. Environmental updates. Neuroscience, 10(6), 410-422. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2648

7 Kim, E. J., Pellman, B., & Kim, J. J. (2015). Effects of stress on the hippocampus: a critical review. Learning and Memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.), 22(9), 411–416. https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.037291.114

8 Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., Committee on Child Psychiatry and Family Health, Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care, & Section on Child Development and Behavior (2012). Lifelong consequences of childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232–e246. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-2663

9 Li, L., Wu, M., Liao, Y., Ouyang, L., Du, M., Lei, D., Chen, L., Yao, L., Huang, X., & Gong, Q. .(2014). Reduction of gray matter associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic stress. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 43, 163-172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.04.003

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10 David-Ferdon, C., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Dahlberg, L. L., Marshall, K. J., Rainford, N. & Hall, E. (2016). A Comprehensive Package of Technologies for the Prevention of Youth Violence and Related Risk Behavior. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/yv-technicalpackage.pdf The brain is a fascinating and complex organ. It is the main control center of our entire body, and can be affected by stress in many different ways. Stress itself is an important part of life – it helps us prepare for danger or respond to emergencies. But the more stressed we are, the more our brains begin to pay the price. This blog post will explore how stress affects your brain, both positively and negatively, so you can develop strategies to reduce your brain’s vulnerability to its harmful effects.

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First, it is important to understand how our body works under stress. In simple terms, stress is basically a “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat. This activates the amygdala, or “fear center” of the brain, and triggers a chain of events. This includes production of the stress hormone cortisol, increased blood sugar levels, increased heart rate, and increased blood flow to the muscles in the arms and legs. After the threat has passed, then the body will eventually return to normal.

In the case of chronic stress, however, the fear center of the brain is constantly active, which means that the body is in a constant state of stress. Cortisol levels are also elevated, which can eventually start to cause problems with digestion, sleep, and the immune system. Not only that, but when part of the brain is constantly involved, it is said that other parts of the brain may not have enough energy to perform their functions properly. Because of that, here are six ways stress can affect the brain:

Another effect of chronic stress that researchers have observed is memory impairment. Specifically, it has been observed that depressed people tend to be more forgetful and less likely to remember certain information. Researchers believe that even minor stress, such as being late for work, can make you forget simple things like where your keys are. One study conducted on old mice even noted that high levels of cortisol caused a decline in short-term memory. According to Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “The basic idea is that the brain is running away from its resources because it is in survival mode, not memory mode”.

Chronic Pain And Chronic Stress: Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

Your mind is made up of both gray and white matter. Gray matter is used to make decisions and solve problems, while white matter is used to connect brain regions and communicate information. It has been observed that during periods of chronic stress, the myelin sheaths that make up the white matter are overproduced, while less gray matter is produced. If this happens, there may be an imbalance of gray and white

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