Many times fatigue comes from a variety of stressors over a period of time. This article will explore the issue as it relates to kids and teens.
Stress and Cortisol in Kids and Teens
The effects of stress can impact overall health and day-to-day activities. Stress is not just an issue that affects adults; infants, toddlers and teens can be equally affected by stress. In recent years, studies have been conducted that have proven that women react differently to stress than men.
Because most of the stress studies performed were conducted on men, scientific exploration into the effects of stress on women was necessary to understand the full scope of the effects of stress.
The same might be said for children.
Children undergo rapid stages of growth both in body and brain. Behavioral, psychological and social growth can have an impact on stress in infants, toddlers, young children and teenagers.
These developmental stages are marked by different points of growth and hormones associated with stress. Because stress is an inevitable occurrence for children and adults it is important to
think about ways to modulate stress.
Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones. Children with higher levels of glucocortisone are
more apt to have problems in their physical, social, and mental development. Persistent increased cortisol levels in infants and young children can lead to smaller brain electrical changes when forming memories. This can compromise new memory formation. Memory, attention span and self-regulation are all influenced by cortisol production.
When self-regulation is not learned, or it is inhibited by other hormone activity in the body, children can have issues regulating behaviors and emotions. Children who have increased levels of cortisol during daycare or nursery school time experience extreme hardship maintaining attention.
Because maintaining attention is a part of self-regulation, these children are not able to regulate behaviors due to high cortisol levels.
In adults, stress can affect normal daily activities or functions. But in children, stress can interrupt the ability to establish attention, a crucial element to the learning process that can potentially lead to attention issues later in life.
Studies have consistently shown that children exposed to long-term maternal stress and continued early life exposure to cortisol have an increased risk of developing early emotional disorders.
Long-term increased cortisol may also lead to behavioral problems and aggression. Evaluating what the early developmental environment was like for the child may provide information about angry or anxious behavior. Determining whether or not a child had control of emotions or the ability to self-regulate can provide context about a child’s behavior.
Chronic Stress in Children
Chronic stress in children can lead to significant biological, physiological and behavioral changes.
It leads to long-term chronic arousal of brainstem activity, which increases blood pressure, heart rate and arousal states. When a child is under these arousal states for long periods of time, biological, physiological and behavioral changes can occur. Changes in brain chemistry can lead to anxiety, depression or hyperactivity.
Chronic stress in children can alter and impair brain circuit formation. Brain circuit formations
are an important part of early development. Studies have found that impairments to these circuits can result in a smaller brain size for younger children.
Understanding and evaluating the source of stress is an important element to evaluating and treating stress. It is important to evaluate the amount of stress the child exposed to.
Understanding if the source of the child’s stress is from a social or family environment can help determine how stress can be reduced. Evaluating these factors can also determine if the cause of stress is socially related or if it has to do with nutritional deficiencies.
Stress and Health Risk Behaviors in Adolescents
Chronic stress in adolescents and teens can contribute to risky, self-damaging and sometimes violent behavior. It can often lead to the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs.
Race, socioeconomic status and gender can often influence the presence of chronic stress in teenagers. Chronic stress can also lead to depression or anxiety.
Parental Stress and Adolescent Health
Lack of family support or a supportive network can be a source of stress for adolescents. Parental stress from financial, work or relationship issues can also affect a teen’s level of stress. When a teen’s parents have large amounts of stress in their lives, it can create a rebound effect for the adolescent. This can lead to chronic stress that can lead to the deterioration of physiology. An increasing number of teens have asthma that is related to parental stress. Parental stress has been shown to affect the teen’s immune system, increasing the risk for more frequent illness.
Stress-Related Health Issues
Stress can be physiologically damaging to children and teens. Some stress-related health issues include:
• Growth and development in brain and body
• Mood disorders
• Anger and irritability
Children of all ages feel the effects of stress in their ever changing physiology. In the
modern world of over-achievement and highly competitive academics and sports, children
feel increased stress.