The Cleveland Clinic describes stress as “a normal reaction the body has when changes occur, resulting in physical, emotional and intellectual responses.” It is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that is the body’s reaction to a challenge or demand and may be caused by any event or thought that sparks feelings of frustration, anger, and/ or nervousness. While occasional stress is an unavoidable feeling that all children will encounter at some point in their young lives, chronic stress is atypical. Chronic stress is a pathological state that is caused by prolonged activation of the normal acute physiological stress response, which can wreak havoc on a child’s immune, metabolic, cardiovascular systems, and according to brain research, even alter brain physiology. Childhood stress can lead to an array of unwanted physiological health complications later in life, such as:
- Inflammation in the body: Under repeated stress, the blood-brain barrier is weakened and does not protect circulating inflammatory proteins from entering the brain. Chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
- Hormone imbalances: Stress affects certain hormones in the brain, including cortisol and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). High, prolonged levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus (area of the brain connected to learning and memory).
- A known factor for mental illness: Studies have found that “chronic stress leads to structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex, which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders” as well as the development of stress-induced affective and cognitive impairment.
- Overall weakening of the immune system: Prolonged stress can alter protective immune responses, increasing one’s susceptibility to infections, such as colds, the flu, and other viral and bacterial disease.
The body’s stress response system is designed to be self-limiting, meaning that “once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal” and as adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, one’s heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, allowing other systems to resume peak functioning. Chronic stress can interfere with a child’s physical, psychological, and physiological functioning. It can disrupt early brain development and prohibit the endocrine, digestive, excretory, immune, circulatory, and reproductive systems from performing at their optimal levels.
Further Information and SupportFor most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.