Navigating Toxic Stress – 10 Tips For Building Resilience In Children And Adults
In today’s fast-paced and often unpredictable world, children and adults alike are increasingly experiencing toxic stress. From world events to the almost daily mass shootings we see on the news here in the US, it creates a level of anxiety like we’ve never seen before and seems to be getting worse, negatively impacting the mental health of millions of people.
This creates a chronic and prolonged activation of the body’s stress system and can have severe consequences on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This toxic stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways that directly and indirectly affect emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical, academic, and interpersonal aspects of life.
Here are some of the signs to be aware of that result from prolonged toxic stress. Recognizing and addressing these signs in both adults and children is crucial to learning healthy coping strategies that build resilience.
- Mood swings
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Memory gaps
- Decision making
- Negative outlook on life
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Increased substance abuse
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Muscle tension
- Changes in appetite
- Unexplained weight loss/gain
- Chronic illnesses such as IBS, migraines, insomnia, acne, and high blood pressure
- Loss of concentration and clarity
- Decrease in academic or work performance
- Increased absenteeism
- Difficulty completing tasks
Interpersonal relationship issues:
- Strained relationships and communications
- Increased conflict
- Difficulty connecting with others
The prolonged effects of this toxic stress can lead to long-term health issues and an increased risk for chronic disease, mental health disorders, and impairments to social and cognitive functioning.
So what can we do? It’s important to understand the root causes of your stress and anxiety. Then learning how to incorporate stress management techniques into our daily lives is key.
10 Tips for Building Resilience to Combat Toxic Stress
1. Build a strong support network
Cultivating positive relationships with family, friends, and colleagues is essential for emotional support during challenging times. Encourage your children to develop positive connections and friendships with their peers, teachers, and other supportive adults.
2. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Observing your own mind is an important place to start. Noticing the internal dialogue you’re having with yourself to determine if your own self-talk is causing you anxiety. Then regularly practicing deep breathing (in for 4 counts, out for 8 counts) to calm your nervous system. Other practices include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga to help you relax. Make it a family affair by teaching your children these techniques as well so they can learn from a young age how they can better manage their stress and emotions.
3. Get Active
Regular exercise can improve your mood, lower stress levels, and enhance your overall sense of well-being. By encouraging kids to engage in various sports or other physical activities that they enjoy, can help establish a lifelong habit of regular exercise. As a parent, you can set a positive example by staying active yourself.
4. Establish healthy sleep habits
Prioritizing sleep and creating positive sleep hygiene habits sets you up for success the next day. By creating a sleep space that is conducive to rest and relaxation, keeping it at a comfortable but cool temperature, and limiting exposure to screen time before bed, creates a win-win for parents and kids alike.
5. Maintain a healthy diet
Eating healthy and nutritious food helps your body support you in your busy life with more energy and mental clarity. Encourage your children to make smart, healthy choices by providing them with a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Set positive examples by limiting the intake of processed foods and sugary drinks. Your body will thank you!
6. Set realistic expectations
Stress can be addictive too. Overworking to create the false façade of having all the answers intensifies toxic stress. Learn to set realistic and achievable goals and break them up into small, manageable tasks. Model for your kids the importance of balancing their responsibilities with self-care and setting age-appropriate expectations. Help them understand it’s ok to ask for help.
7. Encourage creative expression
Right-brain creative skills are just as valuable as left-brain analytical skills. Making time to engage in activities that foster your creative expression such as painting, writing, music, or dance, helps expand your thinking and perspectives in a way that can provide the breakthrough you need for your next great idea. Encouraging kids to express themselves in various creative ways is a great way to help them share their feelings when they don’t have the words for them.
8. Develop healthy coping skills
As adults and kids, we often don’t have the words to express how we’re feeling in stressful moments. This is because our stress emotions are driven by our amygdala, the fight, flight or freeze part of your limbic brain. It has no words. So, learning healthy coping skills such as active listening, problem-solving, and setting appropriate boundaries to manage stress in those moments is key. Help your children understand that everyone experiences stress, teaching them these healthy communication skills as well to move through stressful times more effectively.
9. Seek professional help
We all need help sometimes. If you’re experiencing toxic stress that is manifesting itself as any of the various symptoms mentioned above, consider seeking guidance from a coach, therapist, or counselor. Early intervention can prevent long-term issues and provide valuable support for both children and adults. Having the objective perspective of a trained professional can help you find healthy new ways of thinking and feeling about the challenges you’re facing.
10. Foster resilience
You can build your resilience muscle by developing a positive self-image and learning from setbacks to help guide your future choices and decisions in a positive way. Practice these ten coping strategies while fostering kind and nurturing communications with yourself and your children to create a space for everyone to thrive.
“Your greatest source of pain is often your greatest source of power and purpose in life.” – Michele Molitor
As you become more aware of the signs and symptoms of toxic stress, you can take proactive steps to address and dial it down as you build up your resilience. Everyone is unique so find the healthy coping mechanisms that work best for you and your family. Incorporate these 10 coping strategies for building greater resilience into your daily life. You can start by picking one and practicing it for a week at a time, noticing which tools help you the most in reclaiming your peace of mind, clarity, and calm.
And please remember, if you or someone you know is suffering from toxic stress and needs to talk with someone, you can text 988 to get 24/7 access to the Suicide & Crisis hotline.
You are not alone.
Help is available.
For additional resources, check out my ebooks, guided meditations, and masterclasses to help you release your toxic stress and increase your happiness from the inside out.