The Effect of Chronic Stress on Children
Stress is a word that we use freely, but it is also a real psychological event that happens inside our body and brain.
During a stress response, whether it is a healthy one or not, there is a shift in blood flow. Blood moves from the front of the brain to the back, to the arms and legs and away from the internal organs. The response preps our nervous system into protection mode, however, chronic stress response can be harmful when our organs are not getting enough blood flow.
Stress is fine and even beneficial, like during exercise or training, but it turns into a problem when it becomes chronic and constant. If our organs are consistently not getting enough blood flow, then it can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, called gut dysbiosis. This means that you may be unable to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat, and also creates a more acidic environment which can lead to unhealthy reactions to foods.
One of the earliest signs of chronic stress is cold hands and feet. The body knows to protect the heart, so the blood flow will be focused there during the stress response. And a constant stress response will lead to the extremities losing circulation and heat.
For children especially, during their key developmental growing stages, it’s important to break the pattern of stress as early as possible. The fight or flight response shifts blood flow from the front of the brain to the back of the brain. The front of the brain is your baby’s developing executive function. Today more and more school-age children are labeled executive function dysfunction. Your child’s brain is developing while still in the womb. Their environment directs the development of the entire brain. If a child is operating under high stress, they may experience problems well into their adult years.
Whatever the environment – school, home life, social circle – it’s going to have an impact on the internal functioning. Children do not have a point of reference for anything they are experiencing. If they are feeling negative emotions, or they feel sick everytime they eat certain foods, or if they can’t hear or see well, they may just assume that it’s normal. That’s why it’s so important to track developmental stages in children. One of the biggest red flags for dysfunction is if a child avoids certain things and starts to withdraw.
One of the first reflexes we learn is to withdraw. Babies in the womb are seen literally moving away from their thumb as it comes towards their face. And lately, more and more children are relying on this base instinct to withdraw from a potential threat. The events of the past few years have taught them to view other people outside of their bubble as a threat. And yes, it is important to keep ourselves safe, but it’s also important to be aware of the fact that the amount of children experiencing chronic stress has increased dramatically.
Many children don’t even fully understand why they are feeling this stress because of their lack of a point of reference, but the body is aware of it and acts accordingly. This can lead to all sorts of issues in the future, specifically cardiovascular issues since chronic stress puts so much pressure on the heart.
But the good news is that it’s possible to create a plan to change these stress patterns by pinpointing exactly where the issue is impacting and where it started. One of the earliest signs in babies of stress is whether or not they are comfortable in all positions – on their bellies, back, side – or if they are avoiding things like eating or sleeping. Come in for a consultation if you find this is the case for your child.
And if you are trying to conceive, be aware of your stress levels. Many times, parents (especially mothers) experience stress during pregnancy, which can lead to issues in their children’s futures. Since your health can impact your children’s health, it is vital to get yours in order before trying to conceive. Come see us and we’ll help you get back on track.
At Connect My Brain, we look at the whole person. Our approach is comprehensive and personal to each patient. We can help break the stress response in children and adults. If you are ready to make a change call Connect My Brain now at (678) 501-5172
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