When Stress Becomes Even Worse

We can’t escape stress in our lives. Even if we were to shut ourselves in our homes every single day, and never go outside, we would always encounter stress at some point. It is pretty much a universal constant for everyone on this earth. We can do our best to minimize and avoid it, but it will always find us eventually. Learning to live with that stress is a massive part of life, and developing useful tools to process your stress can be instrumental in overcoming it. But when you add the concept of mental illness, that becomes difficult. When it is a child dealing with stress, that makes it even worse. 

Enter: toxic stress. Toxic stress is a phrase that has been used more and more frequently in recent years. Toxic stress is when stress goes wrong (surprising, right?). Toxic stress isn’t defined by the cause of the stress but refers more to its nature and pattern, and we see it a lot in children. Children will experience anxiety, just like us, frequently throughout their lives, and they need support to process it properly. With love, affection, and attention, a child does not have to be damaged by stress; they can be shown how to handle it in the right ways. But when a child is neglected or their stress is not addressed, it can become toxic. The fallout of a child experiencing these things, of course, doesn’t have to be toxic. If treated in the right way, it can be okay. Unfortunately, they are often in an environment that is turning the stress toxic and damaging their mental and emotional development. This doesn’t mean that only children can experience it; toxic stress can affect people of any age. It’s just that young brains are more susceptible to being damaged from it. 

When our brain is continuously exposed to a toxic environment or situation, it will shut itself off from that environment to protect itself. It will still function, but its ability to grow and adapt is severely hindered, leaving it open to anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions. When that is happening, it hampers learning and memory. Stress can alter emotional control and intensify the aging process. It can increase a person’s likelihood of addiction because of a substance’s ability to distract from the pain. Someone seeking to escape the pain of stress may turn to substances to help ease that pain. 

Possibly the scariest part is that toxic stress can create significant changes in a person’s DNA, and these changes can persist through generations. Research with rats has found that toxic stress has an effect on specific proteins in our DNA, and causes issues with memory and learning. These changes were shown to exist within offspring as well, pointing to the idea that these changes in DNA can be passed on through genetics. This shows that toxic stress can change the brain in ways that cause these vulnerabilities to be passed on through offspring. Of course, it is essential to know that this does not make it a certainty, but just an increased risk. 

Avoiding this kind of severe stress is pretty much unavoidable, but we can stop it from being toxic. As we have said, this kind of stress comes about mostly when a person lacks good coping skills. If they are not nurtured in their pain, it manifests itself in harmful and unhealthy ways. If we do our best to love on and support the person, we can help steer it away from toxicity. It sounds simple, and more than a little cheesy, but it’s true; love is the best way to combat toxic stress.

We wish nobody had to experience stress. It can be a totally defeating and overwhelming feeling, but it’s just a part of life. We just have to do our best to make sure that our stress is addressed properly. Giving a person the love and support that they need can do a lot to help them get through it and deal with it healthily. All it takes is being a good person and that is something that is easy to do. Why not do it? Be the best you that you can be, and you can help minimize the effects of toxic stress in the people around you.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with anxiety or mental illness, do not hesitate to contact the team here at True Recovery. Our program, founded in 2014, is built around finding what’s best for you to overcome your addiction. Our facility is located in Newport Beach, California, with our supportive housing located close to our campus in Costa Mesa. Take advantage of the local beaches, nature preserves, and Orange County community while we fight for you. Contact us at (866) 399-6528 or [email protected]