Preventing Lifelong Impacts of Stress

Stress is a normal and inevitable component of our lives. A little stress can be positive. It helps us prepare for things like a big exam or an upcoming interview. However, teenagers are under increasing amounts of negative stress today with issues such as gun violence at school and cyber bullying on the rise. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence indicated that 60 percent of children have been exposed to violence either directly or indirectly in the past year.

Toxic stress goes beyond the tolerable stress that every teen will experience like arguments with family or friends, illness, injury, or loss of a loved one. It results from persistent adversity. Examples of this include emotional or physical abuse, family problems such as mental illness or substance use, divorce or violence at school or in the community.

When we are exposed to this level of stress for prolonged periods of time, our “fight or flight” response stays activated and the risk of long-term health complications increases. The landmark study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Clinic in San Diego coined the term Adverse Childhood Events or ACEs. The study found that adults were at much higher risk for chronic health issues if they had a higher ACE score. Adverse experiences have been shown to have lasting impact in areas such as:

  • Learning, memory and emotion
  • Increased vulnerability to addiction
  • Increased mental illness
  • Impaired immune system
  • Chronic pain and migraine conditions

While this information is troubling, it is not hopeless. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the critical factor that determines if we are able to overcome adversity is resilience.  Resilience is the process a successfully navigating through a traumatic event utilizing protective factors such as support and internal strength. So, the million dollar question is: How do we promote and increase resilience?

Protective factors in times of adversity include positive social connections, a parent or adult who can offer support, and internal strengths.  Studies show that toxic stress is best buffered by interventions that focus on stable and responsive relationships with a trusted adult. In fact, studies show that when we have the support of a trusted adult to help them navigate through their stressors the negative effects can be halted or even reversed! Human connection has the power to heal. Fight toxic stress with healthy lifestyles and relationships. Let’s build resilience!

Resources

Four Steps to Foster Resiliency in Kids

Building Resilience from Healthychildren.org

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