The Impact of Toxic Stress on Brain Development

One way that traumatic experiences can negatively effect brain development is through the accumulation of toxic stress. Stress is a normal, necessary part of life and can be a positive factor in helping children develop the skills they need to cope with challenging situations throughout life. Stress stops being a positive thing when it becomes too severe or prolonged and overwhelms the child’s ability to manage.

There are three categories of stress. First is positive stress. This results from adverse experiences which are short in duration. Things that cause positive stress are a visit to the doctor’s office, meeting new people, or attending a new daycare. This type of stress causes minor physiological changes including increased heart rate and changes in hormone levels, specifically a rise in cortisol. With the support of caring, trustworthy adults, children lean how to manage and overcome positive stress. Learning to cope with normal stress is an important part of the developmental process.

The next type of stress is called tolerable stress. Tolerable stress refers to adverse experiences that are more intense but relatively short in duration. Examples of this might include parent’s divorce, a car accident, or death of a loved one. This causes more serious, but temporary responses in the child’s stress response system and the negative effects are buffered by supportive relationships.

The third type of stress and the one that we are most concerned with is toxic stress. Toxic stress results from intense adverse experiences that are chronic and sustained over a long period of time – weeks, months, or years. The most common type of toxic stress is maltreatment in the form of abuse or neglect. As a result of this type of stress, the stress response system becomes activated for a long period of time, which can lead to permanent changes in brain development. For example, toxic stress can impair development of synaptic connections in the brain, literally resulting in a smaller brain in children who are exposed to chronic, toxic stress. The frequent flooding of stress hormones also leads to a low biological threshold for stressful experiences, causing individuals exposed to toxic stress to become overly reactive to adverse experiences throughout their lives. High levels of stress hormones like cortisol actually suppress the body’s immune response which leaves people vulnerable to infections and chronic health problems. High levels of cortisol also damage the hippocampus which is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, causing cognitive deficits that continue into adulthood.

In order to ensure healthy brain development in children, we need to minimize exposure to toxic stress by promoting healthy, secure attachments beginning at birth. Emotional African girl

Brain Changers: New Udemy Course is on the Way!

Did you know that traumatic childhood experiences are considered to be an important public health crisis in the United States?  Do you know that most of us will experience trauma at some point and that 46% of children will experience a traumatic event before the age of 18? Trauma that happens earlier in life has the potential to have the most devastating consequences on brain development.  I believe it’s crucial that we all increase our awareness of the biological impact of trauma on children and I would love to share some information with you!

I just hit submit on my second Udemy course “Brain Changers: The Biological Impact of Early Childhood Trauma on Brain Development and Social-Emotional Functioning.”  The course is still in review so I am offering it here for FREE until it’s final approval.  I expect that this coupon code should be good for about the next 72 hours or so until that happens.  Join the class now to get lifetime access to all of the valuable information completely free.  As I update and change the course over time, you will automatically receive all of the new materials too – completely free if you join now!

If you missed out on this one, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.  I promise I won’t spam you – I’m not sure what I would say anyways! – but I also promise that newsletter subscribers will always get first crack at all of my new courses – FREE – before they’re available in the marketplace.  I have at least two more courses planned for 2015 so there’s lots more great content coming up! Have ideas for a great course? Drop me a line and let me know!

**EDIT** I didn’t realize that Udemy had changed the rules and that courses are no longer able to be offered when they are still in draft mode.  The good news is that the course was approved today and I have updated the links.  I have decided to keep the coupon links live until May 9 as a token of my appreciation for being an awesome blog reader.  I am really excited about this course – please take advantage of the coupon offer and check it out!