The Physical Manifestation of Stress in Children and Adults

We ALL feel stress.  Some of us don’t like to admit it; as if acknowledging stress means you lose some kind of human superpower.  For others, we like to own it.  We like to wrap ourselves in it like a warm blanket and, unfortunately, we sometimes let that blanket swallow us whole.


I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle.  I am aware of my stress; more than willing to acknowledge it, but prone to episodes of near suffocation.  I recommend against suffocating in your blanket of stress.  Also, I admonish denying your stress.  Neither serves a healthy purpose.

According, to Psychology Today, “Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it’s an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body.”  Seems simple.  We mine as well learn to live with it.  Utilize it as a tool.  Take the suffocating blanket and use it as a cape to harness those human superpowers we all possess.

The first step in teaching our children how to manage stress is leading by example in our ability to acknowledge our own.  Next, we accept the role stress plays in manifesting itself physically and, finally, we learn how to deal with the symptoms in a healthy manner.  Stress affects our entire body’s operating system from head-to-toe.  It is sneaky.  It emerges differently in every child and every adult.  Stress can be seen in the body as:

  • frequent headaches and stomachaches
  • bedwetting and frequent urination
  • shaky hands, light headedness, dizziness and hair loss
  • back pain, neck pain and, plain ole’ everywhere pain
  • sweating and hot/cold body temperature changes
  • jaw pain and grinding teeth
  • fatigue, frequent colds and infections
  • blurry vision, shortness of breath and heart palpitations
  • constipation, diarrhea and vomiting
  • asthma attacks, allergy attacks and panic attacks
  • rashes and skin disorders of every kind known to man

Obviously, these symptoms will not be related to any underlying medical condition.  Acknowledging these symptoms in your child or in yourself as possibly stress-related in their origin does not mean they are not real.  The symptoms are very real and are not simply somatic.  If you don’t believe me, please check every medical journal ever written.  Ok…that might be a stretch but you get my point!  Stress can trigger or exacerbate almost every physical illness from depression, anxiety and diabetes to chronic ulcers, colitis, heart attacks and dermatitis of varying sorts.  If we are willing to agree that stress can actually stop a weakened heart from beating in the form of a heart attack then we must allow ourselves to understand it can wreak havoc throughout our entire system.

Don’t we all in 2017 believe in the mind-body connection?  I know when I feel sad; my body actually produces tears from my eyes.  Crazy amazing, if you consider it.  Water pours from your eyes because of a feeling and thought that originated in your brain.  So what else is that brain of ours up to?  And how can we harness its superpowers?

It is okay to acknowledge your child may be struggling with stress.  It is okay to say you may be stressed or your entire family is stressed.  Stress is universal.  It helps keep us alert and alive; two components I find somewhat necessary to living.  So embrace it.  Just avoid being smothered by it.

Now that I have thoroughly convinced you that stress can manifest itself physically in your child’s body or your own…what to do?  Let’s keep the pesky physical ailments at bay and try the following stress-reducing activities on the daily:

  1. Exercise and I don’t mean walking to your mailbox.  Make it fun and get the heart pumping.  Have a running competition in your backyard.  It is the only running competition I will ever win.  So you better believe I race my kids!
  2. Eat dark leafy greens, fresh fruits, and lots of Omega-3 fats like salmon, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.
  3. Avoid simple carbohydrates and sugar like a bad case of the flu.  No, really. Avoid them.  These two guys are stressing your brain and your whole body.  Tell them to take a hike!
  4. Give meditation a whirl.  No, you don’t have to create a sacred space for contemplation.  But you can teach yourself and your child about guided imagery, positive mantras and breathing awareness.
  5. Get plenty of sleep and if you can’t because of stress try this: chamomile tea, dark tart cherries, and a carb-heavy (complex carbs) dinner to lull your body to sweet dreams.  Avoid alcohol and sugar as it actually disturbs sleep.
  6. Get our there and be social with  your family and friends.  Social people are generally more relaxed people.  Talk, laugh, hug and play- being human lowers your cortisol levels.