Understanding Childhood Stress



“Research about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) proves that enormous childhood stress absolutely leads to an increased potential for adult illness and disease. A study proved that childhood adversity can create an early process of inflammation that’s been proven to shorten a lifespan by almost 20 years. We learned that traumatic childhood experiences represent significant risk factors in adulthood for autoimmune disease, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.”(Rosenthal).

The most widely studied stressors in children and adolescents are exposure to violence, abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, or neglect), and divorce/marital conflict also provide an excellent review of the psychological consequences of such stressors. Exposure to intense and chronic stressors during the developmental years has long-lasting neurobiological effects and puts one at increased risk for anxiety and mood disorders, aggressive dyscontrol problems, hypo-immune dysfunction, medical morbidity, structural changes in the CNS, and early death. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

“The ability to deal with stress is controlled by a set of interrelated brain circuits and hormone systems that are specifically designed to respond adaptively to environmental challenges. The neural circuits for dealing with stress are particularly “plastic” during the fetal and early childhood periods.” (The Developing Child). Early experiences shape how readily these circuits are activated and how well they can be contained and turned off. Toxic stress during this early period can affect developing brain circuits and hormonal systems in a way that leads to poorly controlled stress response systems that will be overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats throughout the lifespan.” (The Developing Child). When a child grows up afraid or under constant or extreme stress, the immune system and body’s stress response systems may suppress due to heightened stress. This means because chronic stress gives the illusion that the body is under extreme danger, and because of this extra energy being used, and alarms sounding off, the body’s systems become overworked making a person feel more fatigued.
The traumatic event breeds stress if the event and emotional needs are not addressed and released. “Emotions will not deny the right to be felt.”(NCTSN). Some common behavioral, physical, and/or emotional signs of stress children may display include:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Stomachaches
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Nausea
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Aggression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Change in regular sleep and eating habits
  • Change in emotions (showing signs of being sad, clingy, withdrawn, or angry)
  • Increase in crying or tantrums
  • Change in bowel movements
    Some of these physical signs will occur even if the child has been deemed a clean bill of health by their physician. (NCTSN).




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