Stress and Trauma: Negative Outcomes

Stress and Trauma: Negative Outcomes

Dana C. Branson (Southeast Missouri State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2139-7.ch009
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Toxic stress and trauma are common occurrences that can create physiological and psychological changes with negative short- and long-term effects. Research has clearly established a correlation between adversity and negative outcomes. However, there are a number of factors involved in the development, intensity, and severity of outcomes, specifically the type of stress or trauma experiences, temperament, personality type, repertoire of coping skills, and level of resiliency. This chapter reviews the definitions of different types of stress, the neurological changes that can occur as a result of adversity, common and paradoxical reactions to trauma, and the ability of coping skills and resilience to change the trajectory from negative outcomes to opportunities for positive growth.
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Stress is an unavoidable physical occurrence that creates a palatable presence of adversity and anxiety (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner, 2019), straining one’s coping abilities (Weiten, 2017). However, not all stressors are the same. Identified types of stress are positive stress, tolerable stress, toxic stress, and chronic stress. Additionally, trauma is a phenomenon that can be a significant influence on a person’s physical development, health, childhood and adult behaviors, and worldview (Branson, Radu, & Loving, in press; Francis, DePriest, Wilson, & Gross, 2018). These terms have different definitions; however, it is common for toxic stress, chronic stress, and trauma to co-occur, creating increased potential for physical and emotional damage through complicated biological, psychological, and social channels (Corbin et al., 2013; Nurius, Green, Logan-Greene, Longhi, & Song, 2016; O’Connor, Finkbiner, & Watson, 2012; Reinert, Campbell, Bandeen-Roche, Lee, & Szanton, 2016; Shern, Blanch, & Steverman, 2016).

A significant research study clearly demonstrates the dangers of childhood toxic stress and trauma. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was innovative research conducted by Drs. Felitti and Anda that found a formidable positive correlation between childhood trauma and negative health outcomes and social problems in adolescents and adults. Elevated ACE scores corelated to an increased prevalence of numerous negative medical issues, lifestyle behaviors, and mental health (Anda et al., 1999; Dube et al., 2001; Felitti et al., 1998).

Research further indicates that children exposed to toxic stress and trauma may incur physiological changes to their brain development, putting them at risk for lifetime negative outcomes (Nurius et al., 2016). Exposure to trauma and toxic stress has been shown to have strong correlations to negative outcomes, yet it is the coping techniques that one engages in that serve as the conduit for the negative medical and mental health issues experienced later in life. Coping techniques borne from traumatic events are often survivalist, serving a purpose at the time of crisis. However, as time progresses and the crisis subsides, the coping skills remain, turning into a negative set of activities that begets additional negative consequences (Herman, 1997). It is here that interruption and change can occur to alter the trajectory of poor lifestyle choices and habits. Learning and using positive coping skills is a significant component of resiliency training (Dias & Cadime, 2017). With the use of the biopsychosocial lens, the intersection of toxic stress, trauma, and trajectory of one’s healthy and behavioral outcomes can be better understood, while also promoting helpful interventions for purposeful and action-oriented change through the adoption of positive coping skills and resiliency techniques. The chapter will discussed the following objectives: (a) the presence and commonality of toxic stress, with a specific focus on findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, (b) the complexity of traumatic aftermath: biologically, psychologically, and socially; long-term medical and mental health trajectory, and (c) high-risk negative coping techniques, protective positive coping techniques, resilience, and related future outcomes.

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