predict when something bad will
happen and has no control to stop
something bad from happening,” says
Dr. Matthew Hill of the University of
Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute.
“As such, toxic stressors produce a
sustained state of stress that goes on for
long periods and can result in a steady
release of stress hormones.”
As well, the neural circuits for dealing
with stress are particularly plastic, or
malleable, before birth and into early
childhood. Our experiences shape
how these circuits turn on and off and
operate. Toxic stress can make both
Stress: we’ve all felt it. Our
hearts race, palms moisten and muscles
clench. While some stress is normal and
beneficial, ongoing stress can affect our
mental and physical health.
We experience three types of stress.
Positive stress can be motivational;
you feel it when you are getting ready
for work or playing a game of hockey.
This type of stress helps us deal with
adverse situations and become resilient.
Tolerable stress is the result of a
serious event that eventually subsides,
such as when a loved one dies, or being
in a car crash. It is often overcome with
the help of supportive relationships
with family, friends and others in the
Toxic stress is chronic, unremitting
and unpredictable. It can be harmful,
especially to children, and is often the
result of neglect, abuse or extreme
deprivation. Toxic stress is never good.
“In abusive or neglectful situations,
a child is stressed because she cannot
neural circuits and hormone systems
over– or under–react when faced with
stress throughout life.
Hill says the persistent nature of toxic
stress “can leave a biological fingerprint
Over time, toxic stress’s wear and tear
effect on the brain can lead to a range
of disorders and illnesses, including
hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity,
metabolic syndromes and inflammatory
conditions such as asthma, arthritis
and irritable bowel syndrome. Toxic
stress can also affect brain architecture,
sometimes leading to learning delays,