The subtle flows and toxic hits of stress get under the skin, making and breaking the body and brain over a lifetime. Stress pervades our lives. We become anxious when we hear of violence, chaos or discord. And, in our relatively secure world, the pace of life and its demands often lead us to feel that there is too much to do in too little time. This disrupts our natural biological rhythms and encourages unhealthy behaviors, such as eating too much of the wrong things, neglecting exercise and missing out on sleep.
Racial and ethnic discrimination, along with lack of educational opportunities and economic advancement take their toll on a large segment of the population in the United States. Incarceration is the rule rather than the exception for some of the most vulnerable. Adverse experiences in infancy and childhood, including poverty, leave a lifelong imprint on the brain and body and undermine long-term health, increasing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, substance abuse, anti-social behavior, and dementia. How does all of this stress ‘get under our skin’? What does it do to our brains and our bodies? What can we do about it? And is stress so multifaceted and pervasive that we could have trouble controlling it at all?