by Naveen Kassamali, LMFT
It’s no secret that stress can cause somatic symptoms. article on the connection between stress and physical symptoms notes that “98% [of people] reported at least one somatic symptom and 45% reported six symptoms or more, which was similar for men and women. Nausea, gas or indigestion are the most common symptoms (67%) followed by headaches (65%) and dizziness (57%). The number of symptoms reported was significantly related to the severity of mental health problems.”
Why does stress lead to physical health symptoms? During periods of chronic stress, levels of the hormone cortisol get too high. This causes a chain of events that leads to increased inflammation. When this happens, you can experience back pain, arthritis, even pelvic pain, as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. High cortisol also weakens your immune system, which is why it’s easier to catch a cold when you are stressed and why chronic stress is associated with an increased risk for serious diseases like HIV or cancer. Additionally, when you are stressed your brain sends constant messages to your vital organs that something is wrong. This can cause reproductive, cardiac and digestive issues. That’s why stress is also a risk factor for infertility, heart disease and IBS.
It’s important to teach students how stress can affect the body and which coping skills are the most compatible for their learning style. School counselors are responsible for this, but they are often overwhelmed with academic and career counseling. Fortunately, there are solutions to reduce counselors’ workload through using digital programs to teach students and track their progress.
This article presents a case study of a teenager struggling with stress and IBS. It highlights some common symptoms for parents and teachers to be watchful for and how the teen found help through using a digital mental health app. The case study involves a fictitious identity; any resemblance to a real person is completely coincidental.
José is a 15-year old male struggling with IBS. He wakes up in the middle of the night with stomach pain. He has days where he throws up because the pain is intense. This pain has gotten worse since José started studying for the SATS. He’s nervous about his score and which college he will get into.
José’s counselor Daniel is doing one on one sessions with him every week, but he realizes that he doesn’t have the resources to teach José daily coping skills. Daniel researched ways to help keep track of José’s symptoms and if he is following through with his therapy assignments. That’s when Daniel found Neolth, a digital health app for students.
Through the app, José discovered which modality works best for him: he tries yoga, art, breathing and cognitive behavioral therapy exercises. He finds he prefers yoga exercises that help him connect with his body, which results in relief for his stress and IBS symptoms. He also enjoys Art Therapy, which has helped release unprocessed emotions about his stress over college.
During their next appointment, Daniel and José discuss the impact of untreated stress and how it can cause physical symptoms like stomach pain. Daniel encourages José to use Neolth’s health and stress tracking to notice how these two things are related. Through Neolth's tracking features, José builds emotional and physical insight. He continues to use Neolth’s relaxation practices to manage his academic stress. José now has access to a program that teaches him positive copin