A Commentary on ‘The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress’

[Article cited: “The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress,” by Shonkoff and Garner, (2012)].

This is an excellent article that comprehensively outlines the connection between early childhood stress with disease and disorder in adulthood. Although highly scientific and medically focused, the implications this article point to (i.e. correlations between early life adversity and subsequent susceptibility to mental health concerns and chronic disease) needn’t be pathologized; rather, I see these biological changes merely as our body’s way of promoting a prolonged stress response to adapt to and survive difficult experiences. Certainly this can lead to increased disease, disorder, and/or morbidity later in life, but if we develop self-awareness of our weaknesses (i.e. an over-developed stress response), we can develop skills and strategies to overcome them. Thank goodness for neuroplasticity, neurofeedback, yoga, meditation, and psychotherapy which help to restructure our brains, rebalance hormonal and biochemical processes, and promote psychological resilience. (For example, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce grey (brain) matter in the amygdala (a neurological structure responsible for processing fear), thereby counterbalancing the implications of toxic childhood stress discussed here.

For further reading on the mind-body connection and study on correlations between trauma and disease, I recommend Dr. Gabor Mate’s (2003) book, “When the Body Says No.” (Note that I don’t receive any endorsements for this recommendation, it’s just a really informative book by an insightful author.)