Children’s well-being is a major concern for parents, caregivers and society at large. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of somatic stress disorders affecting children. Somatic stress disorders involve physical symptoms that manifest in response to emotional distress. While typically associated with adults, these disorders are increasingly observed in the pediatric population, raising concerns about the impact on children’s overall health.
Experts emphasize the role of supportive environment, open communication and early intervention in managing somatic stress disorders in children. Furthermore, understanding the root causes, which can range from academic stress to family dynamics, is crucial for effective prevention and intervention strategies.
According to Dr. Sushma Gopalan, Child Psychologist – Child Life Specialist, Paediatrics & Neonatology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore, “Post-pandemic, increased screen time has increased anxiety and suppressed emotions in children, a condition that causes physical distress, and this in your child. Any part of the body can be affected, such as the head, chest, arms and joints. These symptoms are biological and not voluntary or “fake”.
Some of the causes, symptoms and treatment of SSD shared by Dr. Sushma can be:
Symptoms of somatic stress disorder in children
Unexplained physical pain: Frequent complaints of stomachaches or headaches without an obvious medical cause.
Sleep disturbances: Sleep patterns or insomnia are disrupted due to psychological distress.
Nutritional changes: Altered eating habits, either excessive or insufficient, are associated with emotional struggles.
Hydration Fluctuations: Inappropriate fluid intake associated with stress.
Anxiety and stress: Experiencing excessive anxiety, fear, or excitement contributes to physical symptoms.
Causes of somatic stress disorders in children
-Major changes such as divorce, family conflict, bullying, or academic pressure can overwhelm children, which manifests in physical complaints.
– Children who struggle to express their feelings verbally may unconsciously express them through physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches.
– Some children are naturally more aware of their physical sensations, and stress can amplify these perceptions, leading to perceived illness.
– Anxiety, depression or trauma can co-occur with SSD, further complicating the picture.
– Children’s excessive use of screen time can cause them to shut down their emotions and isolate themselves from everyone.
Treatment for somatic stress disorder
– Establish age-appropriate screen time limits to promote real-world engagement.
– Encourage the child to exercise regularly to reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
– Create an environment where children feel comfortable expressing emotions.
– Provide access to counseling or therapy to address underlying psychological distress.
– Establish consistent sleep routines for better emotional regulation.
– Ensure a balanced diet to support overall physical and mental health.
– Parents should be involved in the child’s life, offering support and understanding.