Is your child under
toxic stress? Are you?
We all relate "toxic" to the effect of substances harming our bodily
functions in some way. How does stress do it? Well, it is also made of
substance - stress hormones - which, if abundant, lasting too long, or
becoming repetitive, can harm our bodies just as any conventional
Main difference being, its effect are more hideous, more complex and
harder to track down.
The term "toxic stress" is relatively recent, and
primarily associated with its effect on children, during the time of actual stress
but also with its effects in the adolescence and adulthood. In
other words, your child may be experiencing stress that could not only
adversely affect its development
, physical and mental,
during those years, but also its physical and mental health then and
Since estimates are that most of us
does experience potentially toxic stress level during our childhood,
health problems you might be experiencing now may originate, at least in
part, far back in your childhood.
How does stress do that? It is known that stress changes one's
overall state from the desirable, relaxed, to the
tense, "fight or flight" modality. With it come physiological changes in
body functions, shifting priorities from the
maintenance/regeneration/protective functions to (over)stimulating
body's motor functions - muscular, cardio and respiratory. The entire
body chemistry changes, causing temporary derangement of the neuro/endocrine/immuno
response which, if such state persists,
can cause permanent changes through
alterations and modified gene function.
In fact, it can negatively reshape one's entire life.
Examples of such toxic stress
for a child are
abuse, neglect, extreme poverty, violent or severely dysfunctional
living environment, but also relatively minor stress factors that are,
alone or combined, subjectively elevated to the level of toxic stress.
It has both, immediate and long term consequences, with the latter being
important determinant of one's social adaptability, lifestyle and health
(not only due to poor habits, but also due to suppression of the
function - among others - while toxic stress, through
more or less connected forms, perpetuates itself in time).
The ensuing neural disregulation, through modified gene expression,
is believed to be a factor in the development of depression, behavioral
anomalies, post traumatic
stress disorder and
Chronic degenerative diseases associated with toxic
stress exposure and its consequences can be anything from pulmonary or
heart disease to cancer. Poor health habits - obesity, alcoholism,
substance abuse - can be an indirect response to
the toxic stress exposure, in addition
to its direct physiological effects.
Self-image, and perception of the world one lives in are unavoidably
adversely affected by this level of
stress, and so on...
Is there a way out of this bottoming spiral? Enter resilience.
We all know the meaning of it: the ability to withstand adverse
conditions. What is it that makes us more resilient to stress? A few
1 - personality strength
2 - other people's support, beginning with the immediate family
4 - healthy lifestyle
5 - relaxation
There are many components to
personality strength. Children with resilience to stress have
been found to have, among other things, positive self image, perception
of competence, empathy, social skills, and higher IQ. There is no reason
not to assume those are not as important to adults, with the addition of
sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Social interactions, beginning with the family and school (work
environment for adults), are potentially very stressful, particularly to
those who lack in the
personality strength department.
The more they do, the more they need other people's
consideration and support.
Learning to organize
on a daily, short and long term basis makes one's life more productive,
smoother and less stressful.
enables the body to function near its optimum, which is assuring by
itself, and does help the ability to handle stress. Having enough
counts, and proper diet always helps: last thing
the stressed out person
needs is not having enough nutrients necessary to recycle stress
While these resilience factors act as a buffer between you and toxic
stress, relaxation is
more like a vent reducing the pressure. It reverses physiological
effects of stress by lowering
and blood pressure, shifting body's
priority from motor functions back to
, i.e. helping recharge your
batteries. Even as simple techniques as taking several deep
breaths, or repeating a word, or phrase, while sitting in a quiet area,
can have significant calming effect.
Knowing what builds resilience to toxic stress, beginning with
personality strength, defines what is needed to ensure that your
children - or you - don't succumb to it. No lifestyle change, less so
personality change, can be accomplished overnight, but one little step
at the time will go long way.