Toxic stress Among Children

All stress is not bad stress. Some stress is needed in life in order to let the body get through an event via increased alertness, cognition, optimized oxygen/blood flow etc. This acute stress can in turn can lead to better coping mechanisms for treating similar situations in the future.

Stress becomes toxic stress when it is in an individual’s life for a prolonged period of time leading to a heightened central nervous system state with no “off switch”.


Acute Stress                                                                                       Toxic Stress

The house is messy

Shelter is in question

Running late to work


Low on groceries in household and should shop

Food insecurity

Scolded for not doing work at home/yard

Abused by parent/spouse when tasks aren’t done


Toxic stress can also be derived from traumatic experiences such as losing a loved one, witnessing a violent crime, r, experiencing a divorce, etc. The negative effects from toxic stress often occur due to an overactive “fight or flight” system leading to a higher baseline cortisol levels flowing through the bloodstream. On top of toxic stress disrupting normal hormonal levels it also can impair mental health, cause poor stress management/coping skills, depression, general fatigue, heightened risk for heart disease and more. Toxic stress is not specific to adults and is actually even more impactful in youth where it is called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In adolescences, toxic stress is more dangerous because of the neuroplasticity changes still rapidly occurring in their brain development.

Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development - YouTube

Techniques to overcome and reverse the effects of toxic stress include:

  • Talking with a mental health professional
  • Using support from loved ones
  • Body scanning techniques
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling to reflect on the positive aspects of life

It is important as a community we continue to try and facilitate the ongoing and development of community services to help reduce the burden on individuals and their families.

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