Bullying Prevention Month: The physical effects of being bullied

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a campaign to unite communities nationwide to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention.

While there is a lot of discussion around the mental health and academic impact of bullying, there have been a large number of recent studies showing the effects that bullying has on your child’s physical health as well. If symptoms show up consistently, it would be easy to assume your child might be “faking it” in order to avoid conflict. But there are very real effects of bullying that can create problems of their own and need to be taken seriously.

When your body is faced with stress, it has a very effective response called “fight-or-flight”. It ramps up the production of epinephrine, raises your blood pressure, tenses your muscles, and readies for action. Though this can be very useful in specific moments of danger, it has a lot of unhealthy consequences if it’s used too many times in a short period.

Tension Headaches

Though there are many reasons why headaches can occur, stress contributes to one of the worst kinds: tension headaches. These headaches are created by stress, and though they seem mild at first, they continue to build up over time. When untreated, this creates a feedback loop of ever-worsening headaches that lead to more stress (and worse headaches).

Upset Stomach

When your body is stressed from danger, it will slow down processes that won’t immediately help it escape or fight the danger. One of these functions is the digestive system. It might be the usual excuse from kids when they don’t want to go to school, but the stress from bullying can lead to a much less efficient and effective digestive system. This might express itself as an upset stomach, constipation, or bloating, but ultimately the cause is stress. 

Muscle Pain

As stated before, activating your “fight-or-flight” response tenses your muscles in preparation for the response to stress. But if this happens consistently, those muscles begin to feel the strain of always being ready. Studies show this can even happen while a stressed person is sleeping, increasing the damage done to the muscle fibers.

Immune System Sensitivity

Lastly, consistent stress can have a large effect on your body’s immune system. Similarly to the digestive system, your immune system is suppressed by stress in order to maximize other systems. As a result, your body becomes more vulnerable to allergies, viruses, and infections. While it might not be immediately visible if your child happens to get sick, it can create a lot of problems in the long term.

While we still don’t fully understand all of the side effects of stress (there is unconfirmed research on the long term effects on heart disease), there are many ways it can affect your child. Preventing bullying means more than just protecting their mental health, it can save them from bodily harm as well.