Kinds of Stress
Topic 8 Page 3
Positive stress is mild or moderate stress that creates opportunities to learn and grow in new ways. This stress can be due to meeting new people, the first day of school, or taking a test.
These are normal and helpful experiences because they build a toolbox of experiences and noted expectations.
They are usually supported by parents and caregivers and are short term or rare. The developing brain has a fight, flight, or challenge response to these stressors. Children may experience nerves, rapid heart rate, and anxiety. Depending upon the child and their supports (family, friends, teachers, etc.) they may persevere, avoid, or rise to the challenge and use it to their advantage. The latter is the best possible outcome as it has the most beneficial outcome overall.
Tolerable stress doesn’t necessarily refer to the person’s tolerance level for stress, but instead to the stressors themselves and the natural support system in the child’s life.
With social and emotional support and healthy caregiver relationships, serious events like a natural disaster or loss of a loved one or pet can be overcome and learned from.
When the supports are removed and these types of stressors are too frequent, the child begins experiencing and suffering from toxic stress.
Toxic stress is the worst kind of stress. It is prolonged and not easily escaped from. It usually is a combination of stressors and lack of support from adults.
A child living in an abusive home is the simplest example of toxic stress. While the child is at home they are in a constant state of fight or flight, causing their bodies and physiological systems to remain in overdrive. This is exhausting and begins to steal the needed energy and ability for other physiological systems to work properly.
Other examples of toxic stress are lack of basic needs such as food, housing, and affection. Emotional and social deficits can also cause toxic stress responses which are harmful.
Where do ACEs fall?
Adverse Childhood Experiences create prolonged toxic stress.
There are very serious effects of toxic stress. It can severely harm brain development, lower immune system responses, rewrite a person’s DNA, and make them susceptible to a plethora of health conditions. In childhood it can severely impact learning and development.
According to ACE Interface “Toxic stress during childhood can effect processing of sound development, of verbal language, perception of social cues and facial expressions, ability to coordinate movement or to integrate rational ideas when in a highly emotional state. Toxic stress can effect brain interaction with body systems and lead to disease, disability and social/relational problems throughout the life course."