ACEs Action Alliance
The ACEs Action Alliance is a multi-sector collaborative of individuals, public and private organizations. We work together to promote a trauma-informed, resilient Clark County. We align local efforts by convening partners, assessing needs, raising awareness about the causes and impact of trauma and toxic stress, measuring progress, and promoting approaches that build individual, family and community resilience. We meet monthly and welcome new members. Please see the calendar for the date of our next meeting.
Will COVID-19 impact your health, even if you don’t catch the virus?
Situations and events that are unexpected, unpredictable and over which we have minimal or no control can trigger our bodies’ stress responses. When this type of situation persists over time, stress becomes potentially traumatic and particularly toxic. As the original ACE study demonstrated, if unmitigated, toxic stress can lead to mental, physical and behavioral health issues.
Sound familiar? The worldwide situation related to COVID-19 fits this definition well. The things we know (and what we don’t know) about this virus, combined with concerns about our jobs and the economy, our own or our children’s education, the safety of friends and family — and even our supply of toilet paper — has the cumulative potential to cause toxic, damaging stress. Combined with the loneliness of isolation, this stress can re-trigger past trauma in adults and potentially cause ACEs for our children.
Unmitigated stress can trigger our bodies’ natural protective responses of flight, freeze and flight. Stress can impair our brains’ ability to see the world as it is and to respond appropriately. It can strain our capacity to communicate, understand information, feel compassion and problem-solve. Instead, toxic stress often cues misguided coping mechanisms and responses such as aggression, clinging, self-medication, hoarding and withdrawal. For members of our community who live with racism, poverty, violence and homelessness, the impact is multiplied.
Adults are not the only ones experiencing this stress. Children overhear news blaring from the TV, they absorb the anxious chatter around their homes and neighborhoods. The closure of schools and faith communities disrupts the predictability of their lives and isolates them from their friends and teachers. Like you, they fear for their own and their family’s safety, and they may imagine the worst. For children whose parents are not coping well, who cannot be emotionally present, or who display anger, violence or are overusing alcohol or drugs, the problem is far worse.
Like adults, when children are stressed, their anxiety often translates into behavior. This may be in the form of nightmares, tantrums, misbehavior, defiance, or complaints. They may withdraw, shut down, cry and cling. They may even behave in a cavalier way, as if they don’t care at all or by acting out scenes of illness or death.
As adults, it is our responsibility at this time to practice self-care and self-regulation, so we can compassionately view these behaviors for what they are: symptoms of stress. If we manage our own stress, we are in a better place to draw upon our skills and resilience to listen to and be present for our kids, to remind them of their strengths, and to reassure them that we are there for them and are keeping them safe and protected. By focusing on our strengths, reaching out for connection, remembering our brain science, and practicing self-regulation such as mindfulness, breathing, healthy eating and exercise, we can react to our children and to one another — not punitively, judgmentally or aggressively — but compassionately and with love.
Helpful resources are posted in the April issue of the Healthy Communities Newsletter.