Children’s emotions usually affect what they say about their physical symptoms. For example, if your child has a mild stomachache is he or she more likely to complain of this on a day when there is a test at school, which the child has been dreading, or on a day when the family is about to go to an exciting amusement park?
Emotions can even cause symptoms to appear. How many of us have experienced a headache, stomachache, or chest pain during a stressful time? How many of us have shed tears of joy?
Even the symptoms of medical illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension can be altered by emotions. Stress can trigger an asthma attack, high blood sugars, and increased blood pressure. Conversely, calming can help your child’s breathing improve, and bring down blood sugars and blood pressure. Therefore, use of self-calming techniques such as hypnosis, slow deep breathing, and learning how to think differently about life stressors can lead to improved health.
Are Emotions Playing A Factor?
There are many clues that suggest your child’s emotions are related to their physical symptom(s):
- Anxious appearance – If your child appears anxious or develops other emotional reactions before or after they develop their symptoms, then it is possible that their emotions are causing the symptom, and likely that they are making the symptoms worse.
- Dizziness – This can be the result of breathing too fast because the child is upset or scared. Such emotions can make symptoms worse.
- Feeling something is stuck in the throat – This sometimes is called globus, and often is the result of feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
- Palpitations – A complaint that the child can feel their heartbeat often is a mark of anxiety.
- Shakiness – This sometimes occurs as a result of release of adrenaline during stressful times.
- Tingling or numbness – Can occur in the arms or legs and usually occur in children because they have been breathing too fast as a result of anxiety.
- Absence during sleep or when your child is distracted – Symptoms that are caused by psychological stress often improve when the child does not think about them. Conversely, focusing on such symptoms can make them worse.
- Associated with a particular location or activity – If an activity causes stress, such as competition in a sport, or taking a school test, any associated symptom could be induced by the stress. One of my patients developed breathing problems on Wednesdays through Fridays in a particular classroom, and the family thought this was related to a build-up of toxins that might have been present in the room. They did not consider that the class was used for learning math, and that the students’ weekly quiz in that class was given on Fridays.
- Incomplete response to medications – A frequent reason that children do become better with medications for a physical condition is that the symptoms are caused by psychological issues, at least in part.
Take Home Message
Consider how emotions might play a role when your child feels ill or uncomfortable and discuss this possibility with your child’s health care provider.
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