Chronic stress becomes toxic stress – and not just for adults! The belief that “children are resilient” is a misconception. Our children are suffering from stress and they are not as resilient as we believe them to be. Just like adults, they are developing Toxic Stress Syndrome from being overstressed and chronically stressed.
As I research stress and find endless information on how it leads to just about all of our diseases, I am most disturbed by what children are exposed to on a regular basis and how seriously it is affecting their lives, their brains, and their futures.
Of course, tea is the vehicle I encourage grown-up people to use to combat stress. Taking a few precious and life-sustaining moments daily with a cup of tea to unwind and release stress can be a life saver. But what about our children? If a child grows up in a stressful environment – one of neglect, abandonment, and abuse – this causes trauma. Peter K. Gerlach, MSW, has a very good site for understanding this a bit better. Childhood trauma is strongly linked to mental health problems later in life, as well as physical ones.
According to Stress and Early Brain Development by Megan R. Gunnar, Ph.D., Adriana Herrera, MA, and Camelia E. Hostinar, BS, which was published online June 10, 2009 by the University of Minnesota:
“Stress is a condition in which an individual experiences challenges to physical or
emotional well-being that overwhelm their coping capacity. While some experience with manageable stress is important for healthy development, prolonged, uninterrupted, overwhelming stress can have toxic effects. This type of toxic stress is often associated with childhood abuse and neglect. In the early years of life when the brain is developing rapidly it is particularly sensitive to environmental influences. Toxic early life stress (ELS) may induce persistent hypersensitivity to stressors and sensitization of neural circuits and other neurotransmitter systems which process threat information. These neurobiological sequelae of ELS may promote the development of short and long-term behavioral and emotional problems that may persist and increase the risk for psychopathology and physical health disorders into adulthood.”
According to Dr. Steven Sharfstein, former president of the American Psychiatric Association, “Trauma is to mental health as smoking is to cancer!” In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there’s a growing interest among educators and mental health professionals in better understanding and addressing trauma. “Childhood trauma, in public health, is probably considered today the single greatest preventable cause of mental illness,” according to Dr. Ken Spiegelman, a Manchester pediatrician. “Trauma actually is very treatable. As quickly as it’s recognized and treated, you can have very, very good outcomes,” according to Dr. Kane, a psychologist. “It’s really when trauma goes unrecognized and unaddressed for many years that it becomes more difficult and it really becomes more disruptive to somebody’s individual life and their success into adulthood.”
Trauma can result from a one-time incident, such as a natural disaster, a shooting or murder, a car accident, or the death of a loved one. But generally, for Toxic Stress Syndrome, abuse (sexual, physical, or verbal), neglect (limited affection or attention), or abandonment (by one or more parent) was ongoing. This may also happen in an environment of poverty, drug or alcohol abuse, gang violence, bullying, teasing, threatening, hunger, lack of medical attention, and instability.
One woman’s name surfaced again and again as I was researching Toxic Stress Syndrome – Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. Dr. Burke Harris has recently embarked on a new project to create the Center for Youth Wellness, a comprehensive health and wellness center that integrates medical, mental health, holistic, and social services for an evidence-based approach to improving the health and well-being of urban children and youth. Her areas of interest are health disparities, childhood trauma, nutrition, and asthma. In particular, her focus is on serving communities where issues of poverty and race present challenges to conventional healthcare and education. She also maintains her clinical practice at the CPMC Bayview Child Health Center.
The first indication of a “stressed-out” child is in his or her behavior. This is the language of children who cannot speak for themselves. Often, we label or drug such children, identifying them as suffering from other diseases. When Toxic Stress Syndrome goes undiagnosed and untreated for years, it surfaces in adults in the form of one or more symptoms (per Christine Forest, MD, of Los Angeles):
- One’s increased adrenaline level no longer comes down. Blood pressure and heart rate don’t either, wearing down the circulatory system and leading to hypertension and heart failure.
- The chronic increase of stress hormones (steroids, adrenaline, and noradrenalin/norepinephrine) makes platelets more prone to aggregate and mobilize energy in the bloodstream and increase the level of fat, glucose, and the LDL type of cholesterol that leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.
- The muscles remain tense and ready for “fight or flight,” but the prolonged tension is weakening them.
- Pain and headaches become daily companions.
- Stress hormones inhibit the formation of leukocytes by inhibiting the thymus function and inhibiting the innate immune response. Stress induces a miscommunication between the brain and the immune system, weakening the body’s response to infections and even cancer.
- Digestive symptoms like discomfort and alternating constipation and bloating with diarrhea.
- Increased predisposition for ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome; changes in appetite, eating too much or too little.
- Delays healing from wounds and other illnesses accelerate the aging process.
Stress is a very BIG problem in our society today! With tea having a long and well-steeped history as the beverage of tranquility, serenity, and spirituality, it seems that this is what we should be selling our customers – a CUP OF COMFORT; most are in dire need of it!
These de-stressing adults will then be much better prepared to deal with the hurting children around them – those who are crying out for help. We are all they’ve got and they not only depend on us, they deserve our attention, affection, and love to help them cope with our crazy, stressed-out society!