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Resilience Week: What Is Toxic Stress and How to Deal With It

Picture of plant with Ice, Raleigh Psychotherapy, Counseling

RESILIENCE WEEK is a first-of-its-kind North Carolina engagement campaign in partnership with UNC-TV, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, and KPJR Films starting today November 18th, 2019.

There was a time not so long ago when adverse childhood experiences were not acknowledged. Many considered children to be too young to remember what happened to them, or for them to experience long term effects from these experiences. In the early 1900s, Freud and his contemporaries began to notice and study the effects that childhood experiences had on adults.

It has been a long and winding road to where we are today. The study of the brain and how it works has exponentially advanced our knowledge. We can map the brain and see the effects of these adverse experiences. We also can map the positive effects of treatment. It’s exciting to say that we no longer live in a time when we are powerless to change the impact of the past on our present. While we will have scars from the wounds of the past, we do not have to be emotionally

and physically crippled by our histories.

Toxic Stress

Researchers have a name for the long term biological effects of childhood abuse and neglect: Toxic Stress. They have found that toxic stress can trigger hormones that negatively impact the brains and bodies of children. In essence, the brain is changed by high stress, unmet needs, neglect and abuse. This puts these children at greater risk for physical problems and disease. It also creates beliefs and behavior patterns that put these children at risk for emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, shame to name a few.

As adults we suffer from the lasting effects of the toxic stress suffered in our youth. Physical and emotional vulnerabilities created from toxic stress in childhood stay with us into adulthood, and can set us up for problems with relationships, jobs, social interactions, and your health. Some researchers even said it can lead to early death.


There are trailblazers in education, social welfare, pediatrics and psychotherapy who are using cutting-edge science and new therapies to protect children from the effects of toxic stress. There are treatments for children with toxic stress and adults who experienced toxic stress as children. Adults who are living with toxic stress in their everyday lives can be taught how to recognize its impact and can learn how to reduce that impact on their life.

Learning to Cope With Adversity

An important part of childhood development is learning how to cope with adversity. When a child feels threatened and has a safe, supportive environment in which to cope with the perceived threat, a healthy stress response system develops. When the environment is not as supportive as it needs to be, the stress response system does not develop as needed. This has an impact well into adulthood.

When a child has support during stressful experiences, resiliency develops. Resiliency is the ability we have to successfully adapt to difficult or challenging life experiences. It is the ability to respond quickly to change without being overwhelmed or acting out in dysfunctional or harmful ways.

It is also the ability to function in everyday life and do what is necessary to take care of yourself with good grace and good will. It is an important ingredient in a happy and satisfying life. Resiliency can be developed in our adult lives.

When you build your resiliency, you will become more tolerant of stress.

Difficult experiences will become opportunities to learn valuable lessons.

You will develop a more positive outlook on life and see difficulties as a part

of life to overcome and move through. Resilient people come out the other

side of a difficult experience stronger and wiser.

You can learn more about toxic stress and resiliency this week by going to

On November 19, 2019, there will be a free viewing of the award winning

film Resiliency. The film underscores that this is a skill that can be taught, developed and used in the prevention and treatment of toxic stress. Learn more information about the film at

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