Female teenager dealing with toxic stress

Toxic Stress: Signs, Causes, & Treatments

4 min.

Stress is a normal part of life, but it can have serious consequences for mental health when it becomes chronic or extreme. Toxic stress, however, is both preventable and treatable.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

March 24, 2023

Share:

share icon Facebook logo LinkedIn logo

Table of Contents

Stress is a part of daily life that can be beneficial in small doses, helping us stay alert and focused. However, when stress becomes chronic or overwhelming, it can lead to negative physical and mental health effects. 

The stress response can be broken down into three main categories

  • Toxic stress, 
  • Tolerable stress
  • Positive stress

In this blog post, we will explore these stress responses, the causes of toxic stress, how to reverse the effects of toxic stress, how to prevent stress from becoming toxic, the consequences of untreated toxic stress, and how we can help children overcome the effects of toxic stress.

What is toxic stress? 

Toxic stress is a type of stress response that occurs when an individual is exposed to prolonged or severe stress without adequate support from caregivers or coping mechanisms. This type of stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including abuse, neglect, poverty, chronic illness, or exposure to violence. The effects of toxic stress can be long-lasting and can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and even changes in brain structure and function.

Join the Charlie Health Library

Get mental health updates, research, insights, and resources directly to your inbox.

You can unsubscribe anytime.

What are the other main stress responses?

Tolerable stress

Tolerable stress is a type of stress response that occurs when an individual experiences a significant stressor, such as the death of a loved one or a natural disaster, but has adequate support and coping mechanisms to deal with the stress. While this type of stress can still have negative physical and mental health effects, they are usually temporary and can be mitigated through proper support and coping strategies.

Positive stress

Positive stress, also known as eustress, is a type of stress response that occurs when an individual is exposed to a short-term stressor, such as a challenging, exciting task or exercise. This type of stress can be beneficial, leading to increased motivation, energy, and focus. Positive stress can also help build resilience and coping skills, which can help individuals better deal with future stressors.

What are the causes of toxic stress?

Toxic stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Abuse or neglect
  • Poverty
  • Chronic illness
  • Exposure to violence
  • What are the consequences of untreated toxic stress?
  • Increased risk of chronic illness
  • Mental health concerns
  • Changes in brain structure and function
  • Poor academic performance
Teen dealing with toxic stress

How to prevent stress from becoming toxic

Preventing stress from becoming toxic is crucial for promoting positive physical and mental health outcomes. Some strategies for preventing stress from becoming toxic include:

Building resilience

Building resilience through positive relationships, healthy coping skills, and other strategies can help individuals better deal with stressors and prevent them from becoming toxic.

Promoting positive environments

Promoting positive environments, such as safe and stable living conditions, access to basic needs, and supportive relationships, can also help prevent stress from becoming toxic.

Providing support and resources

Providing support and resources such as counseling services, financial assistance, and access to healthcare can help individuals manage stressors and prevent them from becoming toxic.

Do you need more support with
your mental health?

Charlie Health can help.

How can we help young people overcome the effects of toxic stress?

Children who have experienced toxic stress may need additional support and resources to overcome the effects of their experiences. Some strategies for helping children overcome the effects of toxic stress include

Providing safe and stable environments

Creating safe and stable environments can help children feel secure and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Building positive relationships

Building positive relationships with caregivers, peers, and other supportive individuals can help buffer the negative effects of toxic stress.

Providing access to healthcare and mental health services

Access to healthcare and mental health services can help children manage physical and mental health concerns related to toxic stress.

Offering trauma-informed care

Providing trauma-informed care, which is sensitive to the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma, can help children feel supported and understood.

Teaching coping skills

Teaching coping skills such as mindfulness, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques can help children manage their stress response and reduce the negative effects of toxic stress.

Overall, by providing supportive environments, promoting healthy coping mechanisms, and fostering positive relationships, we can work towards helping young people avoid the detrimental effects of toxic stress and promote their overall well-being.

Treating the effects of toxic stress with Charlie Health

Toxic stress can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. Children who have experienced toxic stress may need additional support and resources to overcome the effects of their experiences, including trauma-informed care, positive relationships, and healthy coping skills. If you or a loved one are coping with the effects of toxic stress, Charlie Health may be able to help – reach out to learn more today. Charlie Health’s trained clinicians offer trauma-informed care and a variety of treatment modalities that may be effective for helping those affected by toxic stress.

Charlie Health shield logo

Comprehensive mental health treatment from home

90% of Charlie Health clients and their families would recommend Charlie Health

More like this

Person grasping their head due to stress

A Guide to Stress Management

Charlie Health Editorial Team

Young teen stressed out looking at her computer

How to Identify Stress in Young Teens

Charlie Health Editorial Team

Girl smiling talking to her mother

We're building treatment plans as unique as you.