Signs And Impact Of Toxic Stress On Your Health (With Prevention Tips)

Last Update on September 6, 2022 : Published on September 6, 2022

I’m sure you’ve heard that there are two types of stress – eustress and distress but you must have not heard about another type of stress – Toxic Stress. So how do we define ordinary stress from toxic stress?

While we all deal with the stress of some kind – work stress, family stress, financial stress, or relationship stress. No matter what kind of stress one deals with, it all leads to distress and severe anxiety. What you might not know is that there is toxic and emotional stress that we all deal with daily.

Not all stress is negative though. Some forms of acute stress can help give us the motivation to push through our challenges. However, extreme stress, over a while, can turn toxic and cause health risks such as heart disease.

Let’s take a look at what toxic stress is, its symptoms, its impact, and how to prevent it.

What Is Toxic Stress?


Toxic stress is the level of extreme stress where your body’s sympathetic nervous system or flight-or-fight response is activated and extends over days, weeks, months, or even years. Toxic stress leaves you feeling overwhelmed, scared, and helpless.

Examples of toxic stress can include living in a hostile environment or having a history of abuse that causes fear and anxiety. This type of stress is most common in children as they do not develop healthy coping skills to cope with stress.

Experts believe that there are three types of stress:

  1. Positive Stress or Eustress: This type of stress is short-term and can have mild effects such as increased heart rate, increased cortisol, etc.
  2. Tolerable Stress or Distress: This type of stress is also temporary but involves a healthy support system and coping skills to deal with it. An example of this stress can include coping with death.
  3. Toxic Stress: This type of stress last for a prolonged period and does not include a healthy support system or healthy stress coping skills. An example of toxic stress can be domestic abuse or poverty.

How Does Stress Turn Toxic?

Normal stress can turn into toxic stress when it continues and festers over a period without a healthy support system to help one deal with it. This stress can be most common and damaging in children especially when a child goes through prolonged and extreme childhood abuse or neglect without a healthy caregiver or protective guardian.

Some examples of toxic situations can involve:

  • Chronic childhood neglect
  • Exposure to domestic violence
  • Financial problems
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Substance abuse by a parent(s)/guardian(s)
  • Mental health struggles by a parent(s)/guardian(s), and more.

Signs Of Toxic Stress

Toxic stress can leave long-lasting effects on one’s mind, emotions, and body. Some toxic stress symptoms and signs can include:


  • High-Stress Response: Here, the body’s fight-or-flight response is always active, resulting in higher cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. Over time, these changes can result in lower immunity and high inflammation levels.
  • Physical Aches: Most common pains and aches in the body can include headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic fatigue, chronic migraine, ulcers, etc.
  • Sleep Issues: Toxic stress can also manifest as sleep terrors, nightmares, and insomnia.

Other more common toxic stress symptoms can include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Rebellion
  • Poor performance
  • Frequent emotional outbursts
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Self-harm or self-destructive behaviors

The Impact Of Toxic Stress

As I’ve mentioned above, toxic stress can leave long-lasting effects on one’s mind and body. In children, it can cause poor concentration, focus, and learning disabilities while lowering immunity. In adults, toxic stress can cause chronic health issues such as diabetes, heart diseases, poor immunity, and poor mental health.

Toxic stress also increases the chance of someone likely to abuse substances such as recreational drugs and alcohol. Children who grow up in toxic households are likely to build toxic relationships in their adulthood.

Tips To Prevent Toxic Stress


Luckily, there are ways to prevent toxic stress. With professional help, group therapy, and medications (only in severe cases), you can manage your stress and prevent stress from turning toxic. Here are some self-help ways:

1. Self-Care: Make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthily, and practice frequent stress management to avoid stress from turning toxic. Sleep and diet play an important role when it comes to managing stress effectively.

2. Build Healthy Relationships: Make sure you build a healthy support system and positive social connections to help deal with stress. Having healthy relationships around you can help fight the effects of toxic stress.

3. Focus On What You Can Control: When you deal with stress, you often feel out of control and that can only contribute to your stress. Make sure you focus on things you can control instead of what you can’t. For example, if you’re dealing with financial stress, focus on saving finances for the future. If you’re struggling in a relationship, focus on people whom you can trust.

4. Seek Therapy: When stress becomes more than a motivator, it’s time you seek professional help. If your stress is making it harder for you to live your life on your terms, seeking therapy can help find the source of stress and deal with it from there.

In Conclusion…

Stress can be positive or negative but when stress remains with you for a prolonged period, then it can turn toxic and damaging. Learn to deal with stress the best way you can and seek help when you need it.

Toxic stress can affect not only your personal and professional aspects but also your emotional and psychological ones too. Make sure you practice effective stress management techniques to prevent normal and acute stress from turning into toxic stress.

I hope this blog helped you understand what toxic stress is , its signs, its impact, and how to prevent it. For more, you can write to us at or drop us a message on social media. You can also share your thoughts and tips to deal with toxic stress in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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