Toxic Stress


A popular new phrase used by researchers and the media is toxic stress. It has been defined as a negative experience – or many negative experiences – that eventually cause damage to the body. Experienced alone, each event may not seem harmful. However, many small events lead to a situation that is so stressful it can overload a persons ability to cope.

Toxic stress causes the most damage in children. It may lead to emotional problems, behavioral problems, poor academic achievement, developmental issues, and physical health problems. The affects may last into adulthood if not addressed in younger years.

Children experience toxic stress brought about by:

  • Maltreatment
  • Violence
  • Racism
  • Bullying
  • Poverty
  • Accidents
  • Natural disasters

The good news is that toxic stress can be combatted by nurturing resilience in children. Children can become resilient by:

  • Being in a stable relationship with a supportive parent/caregiver
  • Building self-confidence and being allowed more control in their environment
  • Building adaptive and self-regulating skills
  • Utilizing various sources of faith, hope, and cultural conditions
  • Physical exercise
  • Health promoting activities
  • Being allowed to escape the situation temporarily