Description: We are seeing more and more research in recent years examining the physiological and developmental consequences of stress. For example, we now better understand the ongoing impact of developmentally early traumatic experiences on subsequent development and psychological functioning and well being at both an observational level and increasingly at a physiological causal level. We know that a better understanding of the roles and impacts of stress related hormones like cortisol will help us to better understand, and potentially cope more effectively, with the physiological impact of both childhood and adult stress experiences. It would also be valuable to better understand how childhood and adult stress experiences are related not just at the historical or social level but also at the physiological level. Think a moment about how childhood experiences with stress, at the physiological level, might be related to adult experiences with stress, also at the physiological level and then have a read through the article linked below to see what a study looking exactly at that question had to say.
Source: Stress in Childhood and Adulthood Have Combined Impact on Hormones and Health. Ethan S. Young, APS.
Date: April 3, 2019
Photo Credit: Association for Psychological Science
So, adult cortisol level patterns were NOT predicted by total life stress OR by childhood stress (or by stress at other points in development) but rather by the combination of both child and adult stress levels and experiences. The researchers suggest that points to the possible importance of early life experience in calibrating the stress response system in ways that could have life-long consequences for physical health. These findings fit very well with increasingly well-articulated concerns about self-regulation in infancy and childhood and its later developmental impact on a wide array of developmental outcomes. It is important to do more than just notice what early life events seem to be related to which later life events. A more useful (actionable) understanding includes knowing something about what carries the early events forward and cortisol pattern levels are one possible location for the developmental ‘‘baggage” of life stress. Understanding this better will indicate possible avenues for intervention.
Questions for Discussion:
- How do you see early (childhood) stress being related to stress and coping (or the lack thereof) in adulthood?
- What does an understanding of the role of cortisol in stress reactions and in developmentally later physical wellbeing help us with?
- What might we want to consider in the way of social interventions to mitigate the impact of childhood stress on adult stress?
References (Read Further):
Young, E. S., Farrell, A. K., Carlson, E. A., Englund, M. M., Miller, G. E., Gunnar, M. R., … & Simpson, J. A. (2019). The Dual Impact of Early and Concurrent Life Stress on Adults’ Diurnal Cortisol Patterns: A Prospective Study. Psychological science, 0956797619833664. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ethan_Young3/publication/331618343_The_Dual_Impact_of_Early_and_Concurrent_Life_Stress_on_Adults%27_Diurnal_Cortisol_Patterns_A_Prospective_Study/links/5c8571ca458515831f9aa032/The-Dual-Impact-of-Early-and-Concurrent-Life-Stress-on-Adults-Diurnal-Cortisol-Patterns-A-Prospective-Study.pdf
Dube, S. R., Fairweather, D., Pearson, W. S., Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., & Croft, J. B. (2009). Cumulative childhood stress and autoimmune diseases in adults. Psychosomatic medicine, 71(2), 243. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc3318917/
Ortiz, R., & Sibinga, E. (2017). The role of mindfulness in reducing the adverse effects of childhood stress and trauma. Children, 4(3), 16. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9067/4/3/16/pdf
Nurius, P. S., Green, S., Logan-Greene, P., & Borja, S. (2015). Life course pathways of adverse childhood experiences toward adult psychological well-being: A stress process analysis. Child abuse & neglect, 45, 143-153. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4470711/