MEDICINE@BROWN: The Body Keeps the Score

Imagine you’re driving down the street in Providence when you suddenly see a new pothole in your path. (OK, not so hard to imagine.) You brace for impact, but you roll over it with only a small thump, and you relax. Your car has great suspension, and you keep up with maintenance. Within moments you’ve forgotten the minor jostling.

Now imagine you hit that pothole in the old beater you drove around during school. Your teeth rattle in your skull. A grocery bag falls over in the back, spilling eggs onto the floor. A hubcap spins off into the gutter. As you return to the store to buy more eggs, your steering wheel pulls more to the left than ever—you really need new shocks now. You think about your maxed-out credit card. You’ll be cursing that busted bit of pavement for months.

Nicole Nugent, PhD, says people, like cars, have shock absorbers. But their effectiveness depends on the lives we’ve lived. The lucky ones who experience little misfortune or loss are usually able to handle life’s bumps, while those who’ve suffered traumatic or stressful events—especially at a young age—may have a harder time coping with, and recovering from, even small mishaps.

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