Preschool nerves put health at risk

Sydney Morning Herald September 11, 2007
PRESCHOOLERS are getting anxious about school up to six months before they start, putting themselves at risk of heart attacks, strokes and depression in later life, researchers say. A study by psychologists at the University of Bath, in England, found some preschoolers showed high levels of cortisol, a hormone which is released under stress, prompting concerns they were damaging their body’s ability to regulate anxiety for the rest of their lives. Cortisol is normally quickly absorbed but when stress is chronic it remains in the system – and functions not essential to survival, such as digestion, learning and rational thinking, are shut down.If a child is stressed for a long period, the part of brain responsible for shutting down cortisol production, the hippocampus, is permanently damaged, leaving the child prone to anxiety-related disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and circulatory problems.One of the researchers, Dr Julie Turner-Cobb, said it was a mystery why children would worry about an event occurring so far in the future and the 105 preschoolers in the study may have been picking up on their parents’ anxieties. But children remained stressed after the first day of school because large class sizes meant they did not feel “loved” by their teacher, said an associate professor in the school of International, Cultural and Community Studies at Edith Cowan University, Dr Margaret Sims.