In partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness.
I don’t talk about my childhood a lot, and to be honest, it’s not something I like to think about. I had a very difficult and stressful childhood. My mother was in an abusive relationship, and it was a very unhealthy situation for me as a child. I ended up being adopted by my grandmother when I was in kindergarten, and I am fortunate that I don’t remember a whole lot about those younger years.
You may know that there are toxic levels of stress for adults, but did you know that it is the case for kids, too, and that it can affect them their whole lives? While I don’t remember many details of my childhood, there are issues I have struggled with that I think stem from my childhood (e.g. anxiety, stress management, etc).
Kids who are exposed to very high doses of adversity without the support of loving and caring adults can have more than double the lifetime risk of heart disease and cancer and a nearly 20-year difference in life expectancy. They’re also at greater risk for depression, obesity, substance abuse problems, smoking, lung problems, and teen pregnancy, along with other chronic illnesses down the road.
There are different levels of stress, from positive stress to tolerable stress to toxic stress.
Everyone, from kids to adults, goes through positive stress. For kids, this could be from taking a test or experiencing a new situation. We are all familiar with those daily stresses, and it is part of everyday life.
Tolerable stress is a “medium” stress, and those are a little more intense. For example, recovering from an injury. While it might take longer to bounce back, there is resilience, especially with the support of loved ones.
Unfortunately, toxic stress is something more severe and/or endured over time, such as abuse, and develops when someone is without a support system. I am very fortunate to have had my grandmother to remove me from an abusive home, and while I had some lasting effects (e.g. years of nightmares), I was able to continue my childhood without toxic stress.
Toxic stress can be caused by many things:
Researchers call these “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” or ACEs, and have linked ACEs to a higher risk of disease and other problems.
There are lots of great resources at the Center for Youth Wellness online. They have detailed information about Stress Health created to support families and individuals dealing with adversity and toxic stress from childhood through adulthood.
Check out their resources at: http://www.stresshealth.org