The Long-Term Effects of Toxic Stress and How to Cope

Stress is an inevitable part of everyone’s life, no matter your race, gender, age or class. Most people learn how to cope with stress and adversity as they grow up, especially if they’re supported by their parents as a child. However, others grow up experiencing toxic stress. This type of stress can have detrimental long-term effects on an individual’s learning abilities, behavior and both physical and mental health.

What is Toxic Stress?

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Toxic stress can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent and/or prolonged hardship. This can include physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence or family economic hardship—without receiving adequate support from parents or other adults. This prolonged activation of the stress response can actually disrupt the development of the brain and other organs while increasing the risk of cognitive impairment and stress-related diseases well into adulthood.

How Does Toxic Stress Affect Children and Teens?

Toxic stress has a wide variety of effects on children and teenagers. Children and teenagers who are dealing with toxic stress may experience changing or irregular sleeping patterns, changes in appetite, a decrease in academic performance, anxiety, withdrawal from friends, a lack of pleasure from things they normally enjoy or physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches or aches and pains throughout the body.

Long-Term Effects of Toxic Stress

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When toxic stress occurs continuously, it can have a cumulative toll on one’s well-being. High levels of early toxic stress have been linked to many health consequences later in life, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, individuals who experience high levels of toxic stress may also experience impaired and delayed behavioral and emotional development as a result. These health consequences can be permanent if the person experiencing toxic stress does not receive adequate treatment.

How to Cope With Toxic Stress

People who have experienced high levels of toxic stress often don’t know how to cope with the after effects as they go through life. Because toxic stress has such a large impact on an individual’s brain and behavior, it is often best to seek out professional help. Newport Academy is a residential treatment program for teens that has a team of health professionals that are experienced in helping teens who have experienced toxic stress.

Counseling and medication may also be help an individual with toxic stress. Counseling helps the individual work through their hurts and find constructive ways to deal with toxic stress, while medication may help with some of the side effects of toxic stress such as depression. Mindfulness activities such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises may also help those who have experienced toxic stress.

Toxic stress can be extremely detrimental to children and teens. If left untreated, toxic stress may lead to both physical and mental health consequences. However, treatment for toxic stress is available and can help people learn how to cope with their stress and lead a healthy life.

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