Throughout childhood, every individual will experience challenges and various life stressors. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child identifies three levels of stress that individuals experience across the lifespan- positive, tolerable and toxic.
When children experience repeated exposures to various life stressors in the absence of positive, nurturing relationships, toxic stress develops. Toxic stress acquired through family-induced childhood trauma — such as abuse, neglect, or having a caregiver that struggles with mental illness, substance abuse, or incarceration — can be especially damaging. In these scenarios, those who are tasked with helping children adapt to life’s stressors are instead perpetuating the accumulation of toxic stress that has profound impacts on children’s developing bodies and brains. Since the brain is one of the epicenters that regulates communications between other parts of the body, impaired brain development during childhood can lead to lasting health impacts in adulthood. In adolescence, for example, those who have experienced toxic stress have increased risk for developing poor coping skills, including the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco and other physical ailments like obesity, diabetes, depression, suicide attempts, STDs, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.