All adults are familiar with the concept of growing pains; everyone experienced some type of difficulty in their early years. While some growing pains are harmless, and even positive for development, others may have a lasting impact that extends way beyond the teenage years.
Eating habits, physical and neurological development, and exposure to exercise at a young age can all affect how healthy someone is as an adult. But while certain developmental factors may be loosely linked with health later in life, other early life events can have a specific impact on wellness.
Childhood Stress and Chronic Illness
Emotional stress at a young age can impact the incidence of chronic disease later in life – at least that’s what one study says, according to NPR. Researchers found that childhood stress – from social interactions, a death in the family, or economic insecurity – can lead to heart disease or metabolic disorders such as diabetes later in adulthood.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, said that such stressors early in life can have a long-term impact, even if there isn’t stress during adulthood.
“We know that the childhood period is really important for setting up trajectories of health and well-being,” said Ashley Winning, an author of the study and postdoctoral research fellow in social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The researchers looked at a previous study, and analyzed data that was collected from the subjects over the course of their lives. They then compared the health of people with psychological distress at a young age with that of those who didn’t experience these events.
“Not surprisingly, those with persistent distress – so, both in childhood and adulthood – had the highest risk,” Winning said. But while the persistent stress made sense, the results were mirrored by the subjects who only experienced stress early on in life.
“It’s very interesting that early-life experiences seemed to be such an important predictor [of disease risk],” says Aric Prather, a research psychologist in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
Living With Chronic Illness
The aforementioned study is great for parents with young children, but doesn’t do much to help those who already suffer from a chronic illness. Parents can try to remove stressors and limit difficult incidents for their children, but adults who have heart disease or diabetes must adjust their own mentality in order to best survive with their afflictions.
According to Toni Bernhard, author of the award-winning “How to Be Sick,” trying to understand an illness may be the best way to deal with chronic diseases. She even goes as far as to quote Marie Curie – “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
Bernhard told the Huffington Post that understanding illnesses is the number one way to deal with them. Only then, said the author, can people begin to accept what is happening to their body.
Bernhard also discussed how eating all the right food and exercising isn’t always enough, as illnesses can still strike. Her own experience is a testament to this, and she noted that such thinking can add a level of mental suffering to whatever physical ailment is present.
Though it’s important to adjust one’s lifestyle to help avoid disease, mental fortitude may be just as important.
“Once you accept your life as it is, something magical happens: you suddenly see new possibilities – things you can do despite your limitations – and a whole new life can open up for you,” said the author.