The interaction between mind and body is an important subject which is currently not given much significance. Based on a survey in the 1990s of some 3,000 Malaysian elementary school children, it was found that a significant portion (over 95% of children surveyed) suffered from recurrent abdominal pain yet there were no detected abnormalities that could account for the symptom. This was confirmed by another study in which the children underwent thorough physical examination and tests such as gastrointestinal endoscopy.
A more detailed study showed that the presence of stressful life events was associated with the occurrence of recurrent abdominal pain. These events ranged from:
- loss of family members,
- hospitalisation of family members or the child himself/herself,
- recent changes in address or occupation of immediate family members,
- failure in school examinations, or
- bullying at school
On top of the recurring symptoms, such events often led to poor academic performance as well. Your child’s self-image and development can be affected, and this can have lasting consequences.
Many people look for physical causes in order to treat diseases of the body. There is a common tendency to classify illnesses into those with physical causes (injury, infection, etc), and those with psychological ones. The problems of the mind’ and the body’ are often approached separately; their inter-relationship is frequently ignored.
The clear-cut division of the mind’ and body’ is an oversimplification and regularly leads to the wrong conclusion being drawn. Without a doubt, while the mind’ and the body’ may appear to be separate, yet they are in fact, a single entity. A simple analogy would be to think of them as two sides of a coin.
There is little question that a patient who discovers that he has a serious illness often suffers a profound shock which would have major effects on his mental and emotional states, thus possibly leading to depression. Symptoms of physical diseases like peptic ulcers can worsen in times of stress, and severe emotional turmoil can precipitate a cardiac arrest. All these point to the fact that the mind does affect the body.
Generally, if your child is ill, a negative mental condition can place more stress on his/her body. His/her body may also become more susceptible to other illnesses as the body’s resistance is reduced.
In contrast, having a positive mind-set often speeds up the healing process. Having the determination and willpower to look beyond the illness can mean the difference between a prolonged illness or a quicker recovery.
Searching for solutions
Keep in mind that if your child has recurring symptoms like stomach-aches and vomiting, and your doctor/paediatrician has not been able to find any causes for it (injury or infection), there is a distinct possibility that it is a subconscious cry for help.
Spend time with your child and listen to him/her in order to better understand his/her world. By addressing the underlying cause of his/her recurring symptom, you will be able to better help them overcome the reason for his/her stress.