Healing from Toxic Stress with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

In this installment of the ACEs Aware Storytelling Series, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first Surgeon General, defines the toxic stress response and its potentially harmful impact on health, especially in children. She also discusses evidence-based practices that individuals can adopt to regulate the biological stress response and improve health outcomes. 

In the video, Burke Harris begins by defining the toxic stress response, which refers to the prolonged activation of the body’s stress response,  

“Children are particularly vulnerable to this repeated activation of the stress response because their brains and bodies are still developing,” she says. “So high doses of adversity in children actually changes the way their brains develop. It changes the way their hormonal systems develop, their immune systems develop, and even the way their DNA is read and transcribed.” 

Burke Harris shares strategies for healing and messages of hope for the future. “ACEs are not destiny. Even if someone has experienced significant ACEs, it doesn’t mean that they are absolutely going to have these negative outcomes,” says Burke Harris.  

“Scientifically demonstrated strategies, such as practicing mindfulness, meditating, experiencing nature, exercising regularly, and developing healthy relationships can improve outcomes for people who have experienced ACEs.” 

“When we have safe, stable, and nurturing relationships in our lives, it improves our neurologic functioning, it improves our hormonal regulation, it improves our immune functioning, and these social supports are a critical part of healing,” she explains.  

Watch and share the video on the ACEs Aware YouTube channel at, and learn more about ACEs Aware training at