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Ongoing Stress and the Brain

An easy-to-understand explanation by the Center on the Developing Child

October 6, 2021
Education Now: Teaching and Leading with Compassion

All of the biological systems in our body — immune, neuroendocrine, metabolic, and cardiovascular — are connected to the brain. To better understand how they work, especially under stress, Professor Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, says to picture a team of highly skilled athletes. Each system, or athlete, has an individual role to play, but all of the systems (athletes) depend on and influence one another. When we’re stressed — as many young people still are because of the ongoing pandemic — our systems respond, as they’re designed to. But, as Shonkoff explains in this animated video about early childhood experiences and learning, every cell in the body has to start working overtime. And when the stress goes on and on at a very high level, as it has for many kids during COVID, our biological responses end up having a wear and tear effect on the body. This, he says, is “where stress explains chronic disease” — including mental health issues, like depression. 

>> Read more about COVID and continued mental health concerns from the Center on the Developing Child

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