What is Toxic Stress?

According to the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, toxic stress— is strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship---without adequate adult support. “Toxic stress explains how ACEs get under the skin” and trigger biological reactions that lead to those outcomes.

When children have several ACEs and experience their impact over time, they live their lives in “fight, flight or fright” mode, which impacts brain development, the nervous system and the body’s stress response. However research shows that attentive, healthy relationships with caring adults can impact and prevent the damaging effects.