In partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness.
In my last post, I talked a little bit about my childhood and how I experienced toxic stress. Toxic stress is a more intense type of stress — chronic, prolonged stress that provokes an overactive stress response that may lead to the development of chronic illnesses. It is something that can affect you throughout your life even though the trauma it’s linked to was experienced only during childhood.
I fortunately don’t have any major lingering effects from toxic stress in my childhood, but that is not the case for everyone. While I still have issues with things like stress and anxiety that stem from my childhood, it could be a lot worse than that.
I don’t talk much about my childhood. But given all the kids in toxic situations and adults who’ve experienced toxic stress, I’d like to share a bit now.
One of my first memories is of being brought to my grandmother’s house in a police car. I remember curling up in the back seat and falling asleep. It is an intense memory and something that really stood out for me in my childhood. As a child, I struggled for years with nightmares and anxiety, even though I was provided with counseling. I remember waking up completely terrified, but fortunately, I had my grandmother to care for me.
I’m glad I don’t remember much from that time. To be honest, I have put those bad memories behind me. I had a healthy upbringing with my grandmother and my life changed drastically for the better. I have had people tell me they would never guess that I had such a rough childhood.
There are varying levels of stress, and toxic stress can leave a child with long-lasting negative effects.
The Center for Youth Wellness is a great resource for learning more about stress health. According to its Stress Health website, these are signs and symptoms of toxic stress:
If you notice your child is having sleep issues, frequent headaches or tummy aches, crying more than usual, becoming extra clingy, regressing to bed wetting or baby talk, or developing new fears, it could be related to toxic stress.
In school-age kids and teens, common signs of toxic stress include:
- Poor coping skills
- Behavior and learning difficulties
- Mood swings
- Sleep issues
- Overeating and other compulsive behaviors
- Fear and anxiety triggered by places or people that remind them of past trauma
I personally went through a number of these when I was a child, from nightmares to high anxiety. I would hide under the bed and was scared of a lot of things. I remember bringing my blanket and sleeping at the foot of my grandmother’s bed at night. But I immediately improved when I went to my grandmother’s nurturing home.
Toxic stress can even affect things like your growth, the health of your immune system, your heart health, and more – not just your emotional health. It is important to see the signs of toxic stress in children so that you can work with your doctor on interventions if possible.
For more detailed information about Stress Health, created to support families and individuals dealing with adversity and toxic stress from childhood through adulthood, visit the Center for Youth Wellness.
Check out its resources for parents at: http://www.stresshealth.org