I mentioned 2 weeks ago that we enjoy the classes we attend as part of our Foster training. There is so much to learn about dealing with behaviours in kids who have experienced trauma. The bonus part of this is all the things you learn about yourself along the way.
As we learned about trauma we also talked about stress. When faced with a challenge or a threat, the brain automatically triggers a series of bodily changes known as the stress response. This includes the production of stress hormones and an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This information is directly from the “Childhood trauma, stress and the developing brain” course by Alberta Children’s Services.
“Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Tough emotions are part of our contract with life.”Ted Talks – The gift and power of emotional courage.
We all have stress to varying degrees. There is Positive stress which occurs when we are faced with new things like meeting people or have to have a procedure at the doctor’s office. This stress causes a brief increase in heart rate and mild elevations in stress hormone levels. It usually doesn’t last long.
The next level is Tolerable stress. This is more serious. It can be from the death of a loved one, a frightening accident, a serious relationship change, a job loss or natural disaster. There is a a serious, but temporary stress response that is managed by supportive relationships.
The last level is Toxic stress. This is prolonged activation of the stress response system without the protective relationships to moderate it. Child abuse and neglect, family violence, addiction and persistent poverty can be examples of this.
The part I was fascinated by was the stress hormones and the role they played. You’ve probably heard of the fight, flight or freeze response. Those are triggered by hormones. Adrenaline triggers the fight response, Norepinephrine triggers the flight response and cortisol triggers the freeze response. They do this by physically changing things in our body to prepare us to respond. The problems start when this becomes a continual state. Too much Adrenaline exposure can cause irritability and insomnia. Too much Norepinephrine exposure can cause depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and heart rate. Too much Cortisol can cause body functions to shut down, mood swings and anxiety. It’s a lot of big science words, I know, stick with me!
So what does all this have to do with me? I have developed high blood pressure in recent years and the tendency is to assume it is just a side effect of aging. But what if it is a direct result of stress. What if I am actually experiencing the effects of toxic stress. I don’t consider myself a worrier but there are things that concern me. What if the health concerns we medicate for are actually the symptoms of life changes we should be making.
Food for thought for me. Food for thought for you too.
When we experience things physically they can be caused by mental, emotional or spiritual triggers. The answers to our physical problems might be best dealt with by counselling, prayer, or rest… not a pill. I am not negating medical intervention when we have physical ailments. I have great respect for the medical field and the work they do to keep us healthy. I just think we often don’t do the work to explore the other areas that are impacting our health. Mostly because we don’t know how to process it!
So as we have had the opportunity to look at how stress has impacted the kids in our care we have also had a chance to evaluate our lives. I think some things need to change. I hope we have the courage to do the work and make the changes. Ultimately personal health is the responsibility of each of us.
So if you are navigating this fall season with a constant level of stress… stop! Do the work to realize what is causing you stress and what you need to change. Your health will thank you!
It would be hypocritical of me to want health for the other mother and expect her to access supports to make it happen while I sit in my stress unwilling to do the same.
In the midst of the mess