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Toxic Stress Levels on the Rise

With the intense coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd, it’s no wonder that stress levels throughout our community are on the rise.

In the early 2000’s, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child coined the term “toxic stress” to describe those stresses that ”get under our skin” and trigger biological reactions that affect our immune systems, metabolic regulatory systems, and cardiovascular systems. In its study, the Council defined violence in a child’s community, as well as experiences with racism and chronic poverty, as stress triggers.

Toxic stress can prompt an excessive and long-lasting stress response, creating wear-and-tear on our body, like revving a car engine for days or weeks at a time. The body’s stress response doesn’t distinguish between overt threats, it just recognizes when there is a threat, and goes on high alert.

The toxic stress that has been triggered by racism in this country is taking its toll. When a person’s “fight-flight-freeze” stress response system is in overdrive, it wreaks havoc on our brain and bodies. We can’t think straight. We don’t sleep well. We feel wound up all the time. It’s not good for us!

As the Chauvin trial continues to dominate the news cycle, here are tips for combatting the toxic stress levels building in our bodies and our community:

  • Process your thoughts and emotions regularly. Be aware of what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling the way you do. This will enable the executive function systems in your brain to do their job and help you better respond to the stressors.
  • Protect your kids. Little ones and teenagers alike need help processing what they’re thinking and feeling. Check in regularly.  Ask them, every day, what they are thinking and feeling – talking it through in a safe environment with someone they trust will help them cope.
  • Pause periodically to reconnect with those you love. Making time to reconnect with the people who love you and support you is vital for long-term success in this struggle. When we connect with those we love, we release oxytocin into our brains and bodies. This hormone helps our bodies manage toxic stress. And there’s no better time to start managing that stress than today!