During the past eight months our community has experienced no less than two anxiety producing events together. It began with the Decker fire on September 8, and now the COVID-19 virus has moved into our Colorado neighborhood. For many of us, both instances began as something that seemed far away and irrelevant and then suddenly became quite personal. During moments like these we are united by a commonality that isn’t always present amongst the entire population. No matter where you go to try to find some toilet paper to replenish your dwindling stash, you will likely engage in a conversation with someone who has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The anxiety in the workplace or at the store is palpable. This article, however, isn’t about a fire, virus or toilet paper. It is about toxic stress and now is a good time to talk about it.
Our bodies are actually quite skilled at adapting to stress. This is why, for example, when you throw an appropriate stimulus/stress at your body during a workout (especially over a period of time), your body will respond and get stronger. According to the developingchild.harvard.edu website, this is referred to as a “positive stress”. A natural disaster, like the Decker fire, would be classified as a “tolerable stress” as long as it is time-limited and accompanied with a healthy support system.
Given the last eight months, all of us can relate to stress. Now imagine what it would be like to live in a constant state of stress that occurs on a daily basis, lasts for months or even years and can be extreme. This is the third tier of stress as defined by the aforementioned website and is known as “toxic stress”. Examples of this include things like emotional and physical abuse, neglect and mental illness. This type of stress can have ramifications at the molecular, physical and psychological levels. Continuing, it has been shown to reduce life-expectancy by as much as twenty years.
The great news is that there are many things that can be done to reverse the effects of toxic stress. The most obvious is to reduce exposure to toxic stress. In addition, counseling, exercise, and improved nutrition can create a positive shift on the impacts of toxic stress. Family and Youth Initiatives (FYI) provides programs such as adult to youth mentoring and a parenting program that includes invaluable home visits. Solvista Health continues to offer a “Teen Wellness Voucher” for two free counseling sessions for youth in Chaffee County. There is a path that leads away from toxic stress.
Stress is inevitable. It is helpful for us to recognize how it can be both beneficial and how we can respond to events without giving power to the toxic. We also need to be aware of toxic stress in our lives and then be able to plan our best course of action to mitigate it in a healthy manner. Even during a time when the word “quarantine” is frequently used, remember that support is just a phone call away.