The Science of Adversity

In spite of millions of dollars spent and decades of strong programming and policy, Napa still experiences serious ongoing problems like chronic disease, addiction, child abuse, homelessness, and violence. Emerging research in brain science tells us that if we don’t address the root causes of complex problems we will continue to experience them.

This research is pointing us in a hopeful, compassionate new direction that will help us actually prevent tough problems like these. And, understanding how the brain and body are impacted by trauma and toxic stress also helps us heal and build resilience in ourselves, our clients and our communities.

To learn more about how the brain works, check out this video.   

How Brains Are Built: Alberta Family Wellness Initiative

The Impact of Toxic Stress on the Brain and Body

Toxic stress in families crosses all socio-economic, racial and ethnic barriers. Everyone experiences adversity, but depending on how old you are, how much you experience, and whether you have protective factors, the impact on your brain and body varies. Children in particular are susceptible to stress because their brains are still developing, especially between conception and the age of 5.

When children experience repetitive or ongoing stress without buffering from relationships with caring adults, that stress can be “toxic”, disrupting learning, behavior, immunity, growth, hormonal systems, immune systems, and even the way DNA is read and transcribed.

This happens as a result of an over-activation of the body’s stress response, which releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Too much of this response results in changes in the brain and body.

Sustained activation of the body’s stress response, toxic stress, impacts many of the brain’s vital systems, including but not limited to difficulty understanding the relevance of situations and how to respond, anxiety, depression and impaired learning and memory, hyper-vigilance, and difficulty experiencing joy. It is this toxic stress that, when not properly addressed and reduced, can lead to a lifetime of behavior issues, health complications, and diseases that are caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Nadine Burke Harris TED Talk on How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime