Stress and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Everyone experiences stress at one point or another in their lives. Perhaps you face a new boss at work or a medical problem of your own, or a family member. Countless incidents cause stress.


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) deals primarily with trauma experienced in early childhood. CPTSD leaves those who have the disorder re-experiencing the horrific events that caused it.


This article will explore stress and how it interacts with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.


What is Stress?




Stress is feeling emotional or physical tension because you are in an event or having thoughts that make you feel frustrated, nervous, or angry. Stress is a normal response to events over which we often have little or no control.


Not all stress is negative, as some incidents where humans feel stress are reasonable, such as planning a wedding or expecting a child’s birth. Indeed, stress is your body’s response to any demand or threat you may encounter in your daily life. When you sense danger, the body’s defenses are activated in a rapid automatic reaction.


Everyday stress is temporary and situational plus resolves naturally. However, stress can become toxic, leading to physical and emotional distress. Chronic stress in the absence of proper support is harmful and potentially affects a person’s mental and physical health. The stress response is the body’s natural way of protecting you.


Stressors are events that produce stress and can activate the fight-or-flight response that comprises physiological changes when anyone faces real or perceived danger (Franke, 2014).


Chronic Stress and the Body


Since your nervous system is not good at telling the difference between an emotional and physical threat, your body reacts as intensely as if you are facing a life-or-death situation. The more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it is to become triggered and the more challenging it is to not react negatively to stress.


When you are stressed frequently, your body will be affected by developing severe health problems or exacerbating those you already have. Some of the conditions may include:


  • Depression and anxiety
  • Pain of any kind
  • Sleep problems
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Digestive problems
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema
  • Heart disease
  • Weight problems
  • Reproductive issues
  • Thinking and memory problems


Chronic stress can also depress your immune system, negatively affect your digestive and reproductive systems, and cause a heart attack or stroke. Chronic stress can also rewire your brain, making you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.



What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?




Complex PTSD is a response to chronic traumatization over months or years and includes emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, domestic violence, being held captive, or living in a war zone (Herman,1992).


While there are incidences where adults form CPTSD, the reaction is most often seen in children who experience a complete lack of control over themselves, with no foreseeable relief. Because the brain is developing and children learn who they are as individuals and build their first relationships, severe and repeated trauma interrupts their psychological and neurological development.


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a developmental trauma disorder different from post-traumatic stress disorder that forms in adulthood. The symptoms of CPTSD may include:


  • Losing memories of trauma or reliving them
  • Difficulty regulating emotions that often manifest as rage
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feeling detached from oneself
  • Feeling different from others
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Seeking or becoming a rescuer
  • Feeling afraid for no apparent reason
  • Having a feeling of being constantly on the alert
  • Becoming obsessed with revenge on the perpetrator
  • Feeling a loss of spiritual attachment and either ignoring or depending upon religion for self-worth


Coupling CPTSD with stress is a dangerous and even deadly combination.



When Complex Post-Traumatic Disorder and Stress Collide



Neither stress nor CPTSD has symptoms that are easy to escape. Indeed, living with a combination of the two is exceptionally challenging. Reading through the symptoms of both problems shows just how hazardous stress and CPTSD are together.


Because of past trauma that clouds our perceptions, stressful situations turn on the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response leading to a crippling inability to perform typically. This stress reaction can lead to problems at home and school and make relationships complicated.


There are, however, methods you can employ to help ease the power stress, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder have over your life. Below are outlined just a few well-known ways to defeat stress and ease your pain.


Seek Counseling. CPTSD is a condition that requires the intervention of a mental health professional. The mixture of stress and complex post-traumatic stress disorder needs critical reinforcement in the form of therapy and will help ease some of the symptoms. Therapy is crucial if you are hypervigilant or feeling overwhelmed and trapped. Therapy can also help you cope with the problems you might be having at home and work. There are a variety of therapies available to help.


Get Enough Good Sleep. Stress and CPTSD can cause you to have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Your brain and body must have time to recharge, so finding a solution to sleeping problems are vital. There are ways to help yourself get a good night’s sleep.


  • Make sure you have a quiet room to sleep in
  • Lower the temperature of the room
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable
  • Use a comforter that has some weight to it
  • Form a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Listen to soothing music before bedtime
  • Put away the electronics (phones, televisions, pads, etc.)
  • Put clocks away in another room


Sometimes medication is necessary to help you sleep but try all of the above first to sleep healthily.


Get Creative. Listening to or playing music is a fantastic stress reliever, and it can reduce muscle tension plus decrease stress hormones. Turn up the volume and allow yourself to drift away with the music. If you aren’t into music, choose another hobby such as sewing or gardening. Do anything that requires focus on what you’re doing instead of ruminating on what you should be doing.


Practice Laughter. Having a good sense of humor can cure all problems or make them tolerable. Even if you have to fake it, laugh at how grumpy you are. Laughter fires up and then suppresses the stress response in your body, allowing you to relax.


Ending Our Time Together


May is mental health awareness month, and I endeavor to pass on to you my readers information about how to live with and defeat the symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder.


I hope that you will remember that you are valuable and that I care deeply for you through my work. You are worthwhile, loved, and cherished.


“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” – Maya Angelou.


“It’s about waking up in the morning and saying: No matter what gets done and how much is done and how it’s done, I’m enough, and I’m worthy of belonging and love and joy.” – Brené Brown.


“Don’t dilute yourself for any person or any reason. You are enough! Be unapologetically you.” – Steve Maraboli.




Franke, H. A. (2014). Toxic stress: effects, prevention, and treatment. Children1(3), 390-402.


Herman, J. L. (1992). Complex PTSD: A syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Journal of traumatic stress5(3), 377-391.


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