Love Helps Counter Toxic Stress in Children | Inspiring Health | © Sacred Heart Hospital

Love Helps Counter Toxic Stress in Children

Stress can have detrimental effects on children, especially if they don’t have parents or guardians around to help them manage it.

When children are exposed to a stressful or traumatic event, their bodies release higher levels of the hormone cortisol. If extreme stress lasts a long while or becomes a frequent occurrence, cortisol can negatively affect the child’s health.

“Long-term stress can hurt brain development,” says Amy Segerstrom, MS, LPC, Coordinator of The Healing Place: A Center for Life’s Journeys with HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “It can also contribute to mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.”

Intense, frequent stress, called toxic stress, can impede a child’s recall and ability to pay attention. It can also increase heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse risk over time.

Stress and the Family

Temporary stress is a vital part of children’s development. Family members can often help children manage these temporary stress responses through conversation, hugs, and kisses.

However, if children are separated from their parents or guardians for an extended period, they may miss out on the positive effects of oxytocin, a hormone the body releases in response to human contact that contributes to psychological stability.

“Children who are separated from their families need love from the adults in their lives, including mentors, counselors, and teachers,” Segerstrom says.

To learn about children’s counseling services, call 715.717.5899 or visit

You may also be interested in “911 Basics for Children.”