Disclosure of a child's sexual abuse is a stressful event in the life of a mother. It is probable that stress will continue as the mother experiences a range of emotions, including anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and grief. The child victim experiences stress related to the abuse, disclosure, and investigation, and her recovery is dependent on the mother's support. Other family members also experience stress related to the disclosure. post-disclosure events, such as investigation and court hearings, are stressful to all members of the family. It is important that mothers understand the negative impact of chronic stress and commit to managing and reducing stress.  Otherwise, increased physical illness may occur, further depleting the mother's energy resources. 

Stress is the term used to define the body's automatic physical reaction to circumstances requiring the person to respond to a perceived threat. People experience both internal and external stressors, physical or psychological. Stressors can be acute, lasting a short time, such as danger, hunger, or an infection, or stressors can be chronic - ongoing stressful situations. Whether the stressor is real or imagined, the brain and body prepare the person to respond to the threat. Stress, also called the "fight or flight" response, consists of a set of involuntary physical changes that prepare the body for a physical reaction to a threat. 

The body reacts to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system and releasing a number of chemicals, including adrenaline and noradrenalin, into the body. This results in the physical changes (e.g., raised blood pressure, increased heart beat and breath rate). When the body no longer needs this level of activation, the parasympathetic nervous system restores a relaxed feeling. Almost all body systems are involved in the stress response. 
  • Metabolism increases.
  • Heart rate increases and muscles tense.
  • Breathing becomes shallow.
  • Perspiration occurs.
  • Blood flow to internal organs and extremities decreases.
  • Immune system and digestive system function is inhibited.

The brain responds to the stressor by releasing hormones into the body. Steroid hormones, primarily glucocorticoids, including the primary stress hormone, cortisol, prepare the body (heart, lungs, circulation, metabolism, immune system, skin) to deal with the stressor. Catecholamines, also called neurotransmitters or chemical messengers, are released, and these include dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Catecholamines trigger an emotional response to the stressor (usually fear). Catecholamines also suppress short-term memory, concentration, and rational thought so that the person can act quickly. Neurotransmitters message another area in the brain (hippocampus) to store the emotional memory. Functions of the heart, lungs, circulation, immune system, mouth, throat, skin, and metabolism are all altered.   

If the stress response occurs on a frequent or chronic basis, it can contribute to a number of physical symptoms and illnesses. Repeated release of stress hormones cause hyperactivity in certain brain areas (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and disrupts normal levels of serotonin, a neurochemical critical to a sense of well-being. Adaptation to stress is associated with depression and anxiety. 

Stress is related to a number of chronic illnesses including heart disease, stroke, reduced immune system (increased colds, viruses), gastrointestinal problems, eating problems, diabetes, pain, sleep disturbances, sexual and reproductive dysfunction, memory problems, allergies, skin disorders, unexplained hair loss, increased periodontal disease, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. 

General guidelines for reducing stress include:



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