This is an incredibly important book. I have actually been waiting for it to come out for months. I was about a week away from it’s release in print, and could not wait, so I ordered it on my Kindle.
As a person who suffers from a certain level of toxic stress, I have always wondered where it comes from, how it manifests, and what physical effects stress might have on a person’s body and general health. I have read a zillion books on this topic, completed my yoga training which included in-depth studies and research on how to manage and decrease stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and the “rest-and-digest” response, and slowing down the “fight-flight-or-freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system. So, I get it. Technically. But this book takes the whole process to a level of understanding and insight that I have not come across before.
Nadine Harris shares her experiences as a medical doctor in a neighborhood outside San Francisco, where poverty, crime and stress live hand in hand. She treats children, and notices that certain health issues are prevalent, so she decides to dig a bit deeper to see if there are reasons that these children are suffering and failing to thrive. In most cases, she discovers difficult situations in their home lives that seem to be playing out in their physical bodies. So, she sets out to find new ways to treat these children- working with the parents, families, caregivers – to reduce the stressful circumstances in their lives and provide support for following up with the families, to maintain a healthy living environment. Harris offers multiple case studies and examples that show evidence that this type of intervention has been successful.
Of course, stress and illness are not limited to the type of neighborhood that Dr Harris works in. She expands her research to include virtually all demographics.
She also discusses the long-term effects of toxic stress on the adult population, and the way that it can show up in all sorts of diseases and health conditions. There is evidence that in many cases, these problems can be traced back to patterns set in motion as children, dealing with adverse situations and developing unhealthy responses. These patterns increase certain hormones, including cortisol, that if not properly utilized can cause damage.
So much of this book is obvious. Meaning, we all know that too much stress is not good. But the way that Nadine Harris shows us that it is scientifically capable of causing damage to our health- well, the obvious becomes urgent. We need to address the way that we live our lives and raise our children. Harris proposes a system to test children (and adults) for ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)- and depending on the patient’s score, a system of treatment can be organized and followed, just as with any medical issue that we may come across.
I will give away the biggest piece of helpful information that I learned from the book. I will be working with this information diligently in my personal life, as well as deepening my understanding to advance my yoga teaching skills: The six critical aspects of our life that need to be addressed in order to maintain equilibrium in our stress levels, decrease cortisol, and improve our health are: Sleep, Exercise, Nutrition, Mental Health, Mindfulness, & Healthy Relationships. Again, obvious. But not always urgent. I intend to put these six categories at the top of my to-do list on a daily basis, to make sure that I am taking the steps necessary to address my own toxic stress response, and hopefully become helpful to others struggling with this all too common condition.
I do understand that most people resist a one-size-fits-all approach to any sort of challenging life problems. So, I am not suggesting that every single word of this book be put into practice in every situation (although I bet if it were, we would come closer to a peaceful society). What I am offering is that – if someone is suffering with inexplicable health issues, has some trouble managing stressful life experiences, or is raising a child who has any of this going on- this book could be incredibly helpful- on an individual level, if not societal. Maybe – brick by brick, person by person, we could all contribute to creating a calmer, more peaceful and pleasant world…