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Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope
by Karen Pecota

Documentary filmmaker  James Redford showcased his latest film Resilience: The Biology of Stress  & The Science of Hope to hundreds of Sundance Film Festival 2016  audiences. Redford was delighted and grateful to be chosen by the festival  programmers to share his ground breaking findings on the impact of Toxic Stress  Syndrome in children. A subject close to his heart because as a young person he  too suffered from a correlating illness that was difficult to diagnose.

Redford's documentary  compares studies from three doctors in California. Each were privately tracking  their own patients with severe learning disabilities and weight gain. A pattern  began to arise related to horrific amounts of stress in the patients from  children to adults. Not all patients in the study were children. However, with  the adult patients their intensity of stress could be traced back to childhood,  teenage or at young adult ages. In the observations a couple of doctors noticed  that the stress was magnified in those early years. When those patients got  older other psychological issues and illness developed that didn't seem to fit  the "illness" profile.

One of the  explanations presented in the film shown in animation-form of how Toxic Stress  plays out in children. A child is crossing the street appropriately. While  crossing the street in the crosswalk a big truck is coming too fast approaching  the crosswalk. The child sees the truck coming toward him/her and panics. The  flee hormone or adrenalin is released in the body that makes the child run or  walk quickly to avoid potentially being hit. The child's stress level spikes  and then it takes awhile before the stress level settles down. This is a normal  reaction of hormonal disbursement in the body. If this happens every time the  child crosses the street, several things are triggered in the body. One is  aversion to simply cross the street in a safe zone. Another is that the hormone  level when spiked doesn't have the appropriate time to decompress and the  stress is naturally kept at a high level. The body doesn't relax in those  situations.The stress is toxic to the body and shuts down unrelated areas of  the body. It's more complicated that this but if the pattern is not broken the  Toxic Stress can be dangerous.

Another example is if  a child lives in a neighborhood where he or she is constantly hearing gun shots  and is home alone with no parental supervision. The fear, concern, worry,  uncertainty of their environment causes an undue stress. It eventually plays  out in others areas and is toxic to the child. Let's say at age seven the child  is a good student. Living in a fearful environment day- in and day-out the  stress is toxic to his/her intellectual and emotional development. Potentially  causing a loss of motivation in the student. A good student becomes a bad  student.

The danger is that  toxic stress can trigger hormones that damage the brain and body of a child,  putting them at a greater risk for diseases, homelessness, prison time and  early death. Children under Toxic Stress Syndrome can be at risk of a shorter  lifespan, too.

Resilience looks at innovative  approaches to supporting families and children suffering from Toxic Shock  Syndrome. Brainstorm Media acquired the North American rights to film. Meyer  Shwarzstein from the company tells us why, "Resilience is personally  affecting and inspiring. Its positive messages will give educators, parents and  policy maker's tools to deal with issues thought to be impossible to  solve."

As  a Washingtonian, I was proud when the documentary explained that Washington  State Educators are one of the forerunners to address Toxic Stress and Adverse  Childhood Experiences (ACES) that Resilience explores.