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Neurologist: COVID-19 stress can cause psychological scars in kids

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SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The coronavirus outbreak is bringing a lot of uncertainty to our lives, and with that can come stress.

When it comes to kids, Dr. Roger Kelley, chairman of the Department of Neurology at LSU Health Shreveport, said all that anxiety now can have a serious impact on their future.

“I don’t think the stress itself is gonna cause brain damage, I think it’s gonna lead to potentially psychological scars if you’re not careful about that,” said Dr. Kelley. “But, I do think they are preventable.”

Dr. Kelley said stress and anxiety are a natural reaction to difficult situations.

“What I tell patients when they come into my office is, if you’re under stress, just stand in line,” he said. “Because stress affects us all.”

But, how kids handle it can be a defining moment for them.

“The coping mechanism might actually give them an advantage as they move forward that they say, ‘Gee, I’ve been through something like this, I succeeded. I can take on anything,'” he said.

But tackling the stress can be harder for some kids than others.

“I don’t want them feeding off of my stress and anxiety,” said Candice Patton, mom of Siera, 15, and Caleb, 8.

Patton said her teenage daughter is more social than her brother, and has had issues with anxiety since elementary school. When schools were first closed due to COVID-19 earlier this year, she had a difficult time.

“She struggled in the beginning from the social aspect,” Patton said. “She wanted to see her friends. She wanted to be with her people.”

Dr. Kelley said it’s the “physical” distance, not “social” distance, that needs to be maintained to stop the spread of the virus.

“They need to interact with others, they need to have their social developments, so I think that’s the biggest concern that most of us have in terms of its potential psychological effects,” said Dr. Kelley.

He said social media does count as social interaction, but for younger kids without those accounts, like Patton’s incoming third-grader Caleb, they can be left feeling isolated.

“He’s always been a worrier, but it really just amplified to the point that he was becoming physically ill, breaking out in hives,” said Patton.

She said her family is trying to not live in fear of the virus, while still taking safety measures seriously.

“We’ve just had to come together as a family to figure out how to create just an extremely peaceful environment,” said Patton. “Which is difficult to do.”

Dr. Kelley agreed that’s key to avoiding long-lasting psychological scars.

“A gloom and doom environment is gonna be worse than an upbeat, positive environment,” he said.

Other tips for coping with stress include practicing relaxation, yoga and aerobic exercise.

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