Toxic Stress

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines “toxic stress” as “the excessive or prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationships.”

Identifying Different Forms of Stress

    • Positive Stress: This type of stress involves a brief and relatively minor event, such as taking a test or meeting new people. In the context of a healthy, stable environment, these situations provide an opportunity to develop healthy responses to adverse reactions.
    • Tolerable Stress: Tolerable stress presents a greater magnitude of adversity or threat. Examples include illness or death of a family member, divorce, or a natural disaster.  Damaging effects of tolerable stress can be mitigated through supportive relationships that positively affect coping abilities.
    • Toxic Stress: This is the most debilitating form of stress, which develops with strong, frequent, or prolonged exposure to things like neglect, abuse, and violence, without the buffer of supportive surroundings. With toxic stress, damaging effects are compounded by perceived loss of control, which can be amplified by living in an environment of poverty or social inequality.

Continuing to ignore the effects of chronic stress will result in a “pay now or pay later” conundrum — a never ending cycle of poor health, lack of education, crime, and poverty that costs our nation billions.

Although it won’t completely rid us of all our ailments, it behooves us to shift the focus of preventative health care from the doctor’s office to the community. If we don’t make the necessary decision to focus our time and resources on social change, our society is deliberately choosing to “pay later”, placing billion dollar band aids on problems that will never go away.