Can Childhood Trauma Cause Anxiety? What’s the Best Way to Approach Treatment?
It is true that childhood trauma can cause anxiety even into adulthood because early coping mechanisms of the body, mind, and spirit persist. With comprehensive treatment and support, clients can learn to redirect anxious thoughts and feelings in positive directions. With the safety and support of residential treatment, people with trauma-induced anxiety can loosen the grip of anxious patterns and discover the freedom of empowered awareness.
Trauma is never easy, and it’s rarely graceful. But for children whose understanding of the world and their experiences is still developing, trauma makes an even greater and more damaging impression. When a child endures a traumatic event, it’s very common for the pain and complicated effects to continue or to arise unexpectedly many years later.
As children, they didn’t have a choice but to withstand the trauma surrounding them. But, as adults reliving the aftermath of that trauma, they do have a choice in how the anxiety runs its course through their lives. It’s not as easy as making a decision not to be affected, but with the right combination of support, they can rewrite the coping patterns that no longer serve them. Childhood trauma can cause anxiety, but the disempowerment someone experiences can be reversed with help.
How Can Childhood Trauma Cause Anxiety?
In children, traumatic experiences—such as abandonment, abuse, and neglect—call for coping responses. They may instinctively disconnect from their emotional experience, they may try to overcompensate for what they perceive as their own faults, and they may even store the distress in their bodies and experience it through illness and disease. Especially when these external disturbances become a pattern for kids, they often begin to anticipate the future trauma and be on red alert to attempt to manage the confusing, overwhelming pain. This anticipation sets in as anxiety.
Whether or not trauma is a frequent occurrence in their adult life. anxiety can persist in the long term for individuals with a history of trauma. Hence, they will carry into stressful situations, or even into their everyday lives. a learned helplessness that is not a true reflection of their abilities. It’s a projection of that real helplessness that they suffered through in childhood. If someone in your life experiences this kind of anxiety, lack of motivation and fear can become a barrier to treatment and recovery.
How Can Someone Redirect Their Anxious Thoughts and Feelings?
When someone is in the anxiety, it can feel as if there is no way out and as if they are trapped in the cycle of fear and panic. But it is entirely possible to intervene and disempower these anxious patterns. Because anxiety can be so overwhelming, it’s important to have help—someone to offer a perspective from a place not consumed by anxious thinking.
When treating childhood trauma and anxiety, the short-term goals are to:
- Actively initiate relaxation.
- Become aware of the automatic patterns of anxiety at work.
- Calm the body that can otherwise take on stress.
- Develop a comprehensive system of support tailored to the client’s needs.
These strategies contribute to the long-term goals of loosening the grip of anxiety and eventually helping the client to redirect their energy in positive directions that more accurately reflect the life they want to be experiencing.
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How Does Treatment Unfold for Trauma-Related Anxiety?
For an adult no longer facing the same traumatic triggers of their childhood, they need a setting in which they can feel safe to recall those early triggers and put them into context in a way they were unable to manage as a child. Residential treatment cultivates this opportunity: clients are able to grow their trust and fill their toolboxes over time. They can have access to a broad range of treatment modalities aimed at trauma-induced anxiety, including:
- Medications, if necessary, for anxiety and co-occurring disorders. Medication management is supervised by expert clinicians who can help set the client up for success in their other areas of treatment.
- Individual psychotherapy to bring greater awareness to the triggers and pathways of anxiety. With cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy, the client gains the tools to revise their automatic patterns and behaviors in the present to make way for a future guided by freedom and choice. Somatic experiencing therapy can help clients to identify how trauma has been stored in their bodies and in their energy. They can develop a clearer mind-body connection, balance their emotions, and commit to greater mental and physical health overall.
- Social support from a community of peers also in recovery; knowledgeable, compassionate clinicians and staff; and family members also involved in the client’s recovery journey. This can include small-group therapy that is positive and judgment-free. Clients don’t ever have to feel that they are on their own, and they become better prepared to reintegrate with life on the other side of their residential treatment program.
- Holistic therapies that treat the body, mind, and spirit toward comprehensive recovery. These activities and treatments may include massage, acupuncture, meditation, mindful drumming, yoga, physical fitness, art therapy and pottery, goal setting, conflict resolution, grief and loss counseling, and relationship work.
With this combination of treatment approaches for life-altering anxiety, clients can begin to imagine what life can be without it. They can discover the motivation to take the reins and the empowered pathways on which to steer their experiences. They may even be able to look back and thank their anxious responses for looking out for them in childhood but to dismiss those same responses as no longer in tune with their best interests in adult life. The expanded awareness, skills, and support will give them the freedom to live their best life.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders as well as co-occurring process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.