"Your brain builds new connections when it feels safe. It needs predictability, reliability, and a constant ebb and flow of regulation. When it is in a constantly stressful environment, the brain cannot form new connections." - robin helget
"In a chronically stressful environment, the body’s stress response is always on – there is very little relief from the surge of chemicals and the increase in heart rate and blood pressure. When this happens, the stress becomes toxic and can cause dramatic changes in the brain and body" - Toxic Stress
Stress and the physiological responses to stress is a natural and necessary biological response. Our bodies are built to protect us; however, the body is only meant to utilize these functions for a short and brief period of time. When we are consistently in a toxic environment or situation, our body is constantly is fighting chronic or prolonged stress, making our body stay in "fight" or "flight."
Toxic environments can include those in the home, within relationships, or at work. Toxic stress can prohibit new connections in the brain from forming, increase risk for addiction, and the risk for developing a hypersensitivity to threat.
1. New connections.
Your brain builds new connections when it feels safe. It needs predictability, reliability, and a constant ebb and flow of regulation. When it is in a constantly stressful environment, which can include feeling on edge, jumpy, increase in blood pressure, difficulty using your voice or speaking, and going into "Fight or flight", the brain cannot form new connections. It lives on experience, so if it's constantly stressed, it weakens the brains foundation that is essential in learning, behavior, and health.
Our bodies aren't meant to be in a constant state of stress. Because of the emotions that come with toxic stress environments such as significant anxiety, depression, or even trauma, people often will want or need to find something that will take that stress away, like alcohol or drugs. Many feel stuck in these environments that they feel that they can't do anything about the toxicity, leading to avoidance behaviors and constantly needing an escape.
3. Hypersensitivity to threat.
Our bodies respond to stress by increasing heart rate and shutting down our organ functions to go into survival mode. After all, this is what we have had to do all the way from caveman times when faced with a saber-tooth tiger in order to survive. However, today, we are not faced with saber-tooths; instead, we are faced with everyday stress, including toxic stress. When faced with toxic stress, your brain can begin to see everything as a threat. The then saber-tooth tiger is now the feeling of being threatened emotionally or professionally or a dirty look or an email. Our brains and bodies are responding the same as we did to the tiger. When the stress respond is turned on so often, it begins to see everything as a threat. It can't distinguish between the tiger or an email, but it does respond the same way. Physically, this has many negative impacts.
4. Physical impacts.
As mentioned before, when we are in toxic environments or experience toxic stress, the wear and tear of this can have a significant impact on your mental health. Things like anxiety, depression or even PTSD can be developed or intensified in these types of environments. Knowing your warning signs, paying attention to your body, and knowing when enough is enough is essential to taking care of your mind, body and spirit.
Toxicity leads to toxic stress. Being in toxic relationships or environments has many negative effects on your body both physically and emotionally. Take a minute to evaluate your relationships, your work environment, and other things that may be toxic in your life. Do you need to put up boundaries? Do you need to say something and use your voice? And if you can't do either, do you need to leave?