Toxic Stress
Society & Culture, Practice & Voice

The Biology of Toxic Stress and the Science of Hope

Encore screening hosted by Criminal Justice Outreach
Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope
Wednesday, September 19   |   7:00 p.m.  |  Seating available first come, first serve
All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach is hosting an encore free screening and discussion on the documentary, Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope. The new documentary reveals how toxic stress can wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children, putting them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time, and early death.

I was a very angry teenager.
I spent long periods of time away from home getting into more than my fair share of trouble.
I shoplifted on a regular basis. I experimented with drugs and engaged in other self-destructive behavior that eventually led to an attempt to take my own life at the end of High School.
At 20, I was hospitalized for sleep deprivation and stress.
Well into my 20s, I would fly into violent rages that I myself could not control.

Why was I so angry?
At the time, I couldn’t tell anyone what drove these harmful actions. Efforts to suppress my anger would lead to profound depression, and I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions I was feeling.

Enlightenment through hurt

When my daughter was about four years-old, we were visiting friends on the West Coast. We’d been sightseeing all day and she was getting restless. In a plaza full of people she darted away from us. When I caught up with her, I gave her a spanking and yelled at her. That same kind of anger welled up inside me in that moment. I felt terribly guilty and sad. I had just hurt my little girl and neither of us understood what had happened or why.

When I reflected on why I had hit her, I realized that it wasn’t because she had disobeyed me and run away. It was because I was afraid. I didn’t do it because of her; I did it because of me. That one realization triggered memories of my father’s hitting me when I was a boy. Did he beat me all those times because of what I had done wrong? Or because of his own fears and stresses, and the ways that life had treated him growing up?

That bit of enlightenment led me to look for help. Today, my emotional health is considerably better. I now understand how stresses in our lives, in our families and even stresses in our past, have an effect on our minds and bodies. I don’t have all the answers but I do have a name for these negative effects: toxic stress.

Toxic stress has a lasting impact on our lives

This is the type of stress which occurs when a child experiences strong, frequent, and prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, exposure to violence, the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate support. Toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children, putting them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time, and early death. While the broader impacts of poverty worsen the risk, no segment of society is immune.

Beginning in the late 1990s, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, led by Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, measured ten types of childhood adversity which  occurred before the age of 18 to better understand the factors that lead to these cycles of stress in families. The study created a score to measure childhood experiences and the impact they could have on later health problems. You can even take the ACE quiz to measure your childhood experiences.

New science creating a light of hope

Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope is a documentary about how the ACE Study research has helped inform the work of pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities. The new science of toxic stress is opening doors to treatment methods and ways to protect children so that cycles of violence, depression, and addiction can be broken. Our  All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach team and Circle Cinema have partnered together to offer a free screening and discussion of Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope on Wednesday, August 1 at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public but limited seating is available and registration is required.

This free film screening was made possible by support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Special thanks to Circle Cinema, the Potts Family Foundation, and the Tulsa Area United Way.

The All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach team meets on the first Wednesday of every month, at 5:30 p.m. in room 128 at All Souls. All Souls CJO seeks to care for those impacted by incarceration, to educate the community about criminal justice issues, and cultivate equitable reforms in Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice System. Please reach out via email or join our Facebook group if you’d like to join CJO or have questions.

Carlos Moreno is the co-chair of All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach and is an advocate for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.
Cover photo courtesy of Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope.


  1. Carlos, thank you for your honest sharing. This is valuable information that should lead those affected by toxic stress to seek help.

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