Keep in mind that May is Mental Health Awareness Month a time to examine oneself and learn all you can about mental health and how it affects everyone.

Stress. What human beings living in this wild and crazy world today don’t experience it. Yet, people who live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) handle stress differently than those who have not experienced trauma in childhood.

This article will explore the differences between chronic stress and complex trauma and trauma-informed care.

Chronic Stress

Stress is not our enemy; stress revs up our autonomic nervous system to make us ready to respond by activating our fight/flight/freeze response. The fight/flight/freeze response enables us to think clearer and respond quickly to things in our lives that need a solution.

However, if stress becomes chronic, it can rob you of your ability to experience joy and possibly negatively affect your health.

Although you might see them together, there are broad differences between chronic stress and complex trauma. Each has its complications and symptoms, but one should not equate them.


Chronic stress is an emotional or physical tension caused by an event or series of events or thoughts that make you feel angry, frustrated, or nervous. This type of stress is a normal response to multiple events that we have little or no control over.

Chronic stress has many symptoms brought on by our response to it, including:

Physical symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart
  • Exhaustion
  • Problems sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Jaw clenching
  • Weakened immune system

Mental consequences of stress:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression

Often, people experiencing chronic stress attempt to self-medicate by using substances or addictions to treat their emotional symptoms. A few of the problems that accompany chronic stress include:

  • Gambling
  • Developing overeating or other eating disorder
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Compulsive shopping, internet browsing
  • Using prescription or illicit drugs
  • Smoking

Children growing up in abusive homes are under constant chronic stress, and it changes their brain structure and doesn’t allow them to meet childhood milestones appropriately.

Chronic stress is a significant contributor to complex post-traumatic stress disorder formation.

According to Yale Medicine, there are things you can do to defeat the effects of chronic stress.

  • Exercising
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Learning time management techniques
  • Setting realistic goals
  • Getting more sleep
  • Making time for leisure activities
  • Building stress reduction skills
  • Learning and practicing mindfulness (learning to control attention)


If the chronic stress you were under has caused you severe problems, please seek a mental health professional.

Complex Trauma

While chronic stress robs people of their joy and their health, complex trauma is a condition of prolonged distress where the child feels they are trapped and experiencing abuse or neglect.

Courtis and Ford describe in a paper that complex traumatic events as having some or all of the following qualities:

“Repetitive or prolonged actions or inaction involving direct harm or neglect or abandonment by caregivers or ostensibly responsible adults that occur during developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life, such as early childhood, and have great potential to severely compromise a child’s development.” (Courtis and Ford, 2009).

In another definition, complex trauma describes children’s exposure to deeply disturbing or distressing events that make children unable to cope and cause feelings of hopelessness and helplessness while diminishing the child’s sense of self and ability to feel emotions appropriately.

Because complex trauma interferes with a child’s secure attachment to their caregiver, something that the child needs to develop physically and mentally, the child grows up without stability or a sense of safety.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

One consequence of chronic stress and complex trauma is the formation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. CPTSD is a condition where one might experience the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder plus additional symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Feeling angry toward the world
  • Constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Avoiding friendships and relationships
  • Feeling permanently damaged
  • Feelings that one is different from other people
  • Dissociation, derealization, or depersonalization
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder changes lives and impedes ordinary living.

To defeat CPTSD and the effects of complex trauma, one can employ several types of therapy, including psychotherapy, EMDR, and medication, if needed. There are other things you can do for yourself to defeat the effects of trauma-related disorders, including:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Volunteering in your community
  • Focus on strengthening relationships with supportive people
  • Limit your use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
  • Starting a hobby
  • Use meditation
  • Practice mindfulness

While these methods are not the perfect solution, utilizing them can help.

Trauma-Informed Care

The effects of chronic stress and complex trauma are far-reaching and affect all areas of one’s life. Implementing trauma-informed care produces improved outcomes.

Trauma-informed care focuses on “what is wrong with you” to “what happened to you?” By acknowledging a person’s whole life situation, both past, and present, trauma-informed care can improve a person’s responses to life.

This mental health treatment seeks to realize trauma’s significant impact on a person and understand recovery pathways. Trauma-informed care also tries to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients and their families.

Practitioners work diligently to avoid re-traumatizing their clients and work using six key principles:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment, voice, and choice
  • Cultural, historical, and gender issues

SAMSHA has more information.

Ending Our Time Together

Chronic stress and complex trauma, while closely related, are not the same thing.

Chronic stress is an emotional or physical tension caused by an event or series of thoughts that make you feel angry, frustrated, or nervous. Complex trauma is a condition of prolonged distress where the child feels they are trapped and experiencing abuse or neglect.

Both conditions contribute to complex post-traumatic stress disorder that substantially adversely affects those who experience it.

I hope this article has helped you understand yourself better if you have any of the discussed conditions.

Although it may seem that these related disorders are life-changing and can only end in defeat, nothing could be farther from the truth. With diligent work, you can and will overcome these conditions that you did not cause.

“At any given moment, you have the power to say: this is not how the story is going to end.”—Christine Mason Miller.

 “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison.


Ford, J. D., Fallot, R. D., & Harris, M. (2009). Group therapy. Treating complex traumatic stress disorders: An evidence-based guide, 415-440.



Are you a therapist who treats CPTSD? Please consider dropping us a line to add you to our growing list of providers. You would get aid in finding clients and help someone find the peace they deserve. Go to the contact us page and send us a note, and our staff will respond quickly.


Shortly, CPTSD Foundation will have compiled a long list of providers who treat complex post-traumatic stress disorder. When it becomes available, we will put it on our website


Visit us and sign up for our weekly newsletter to help keep you informed on treatment options and much more for complex post-traumatic stress disorder.


The Healing Book Club

The Healing Book Club, led by Sabra Cain, meets weekly to discuss a book about mental health issues. The current book that the club is reading is called Daring Greatly, written by Brene’ Brown, Ph.D. MSW.

Below is a brief look at the book.

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Brené Brown, Ph.D., MSW, dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

Brown explains how vulnerability is the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage.

If you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including:


All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you. If you cannot afford to pay, go to to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.


Mindfulness, Prayer, and Meditation Circle


Meditation can be an integral part of healing from trauma. Our 9-week self-study video course helps you integrate this fantastic method of grounding, centering, and focus. Join the Mindfulness, Prayer, and Meditation Circle today!



Join us for the free kick-off class of our new Trauma-Informed Yoga program! #yoga #mentalhealth #healing #wellness #cptsd We can’t wait to see you!