Dissociative: Another indicator of stress

Learn indicators of stress, anxiety and dissociative.

College classes have begun and most schools are gearing up to start the 2015-16 school year and therefore students may have an increase of stress. There are many social-emotional indicators that your adolescence and teen is suffering from stress. According to the American Psychological Association, parents and teachers should watch for negative changes in behavior, changes in physical health, and changes in interaction with friends and family.

Common changes can include acting irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure, routinely expressing worries, complaining more than usual about school, crying, displaying surprising fearful reactions, clinging to a parent or teacher, sleeping too much or too little, or eating too much or too little. With teens, while spending more time with and confiding in peers is a normal part of growing up, significantly avoiding parents, abandoning long-time friendships for a new set of peers or expressing excessive hostility toward family members, may indicate that the teen is experiencing significant stress. While negative behavior is not always linked to excessive stress, negative changes in behavior are almost always a clear indication that something is wrong.

Besides watching for changes in behavior, be mindful of physical cues such as feeling sick or having physical pain. Pay attention to how your child is interacting with others. Listen and translate what you observe and put it into words that your child can understand. Not all children have the ability to understand what stress feels like, so they do not know how to express it. Research has shown that dissociative symptoms are as common as those of depression and anxiety, but the person who is unfamiliar with them may not regard them as significant.

Dissociation is an adaptive defense in response to high stress or trauma characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself or one’s surroundings. According to Marlene Steinberg, practicing psychiatrist and world renowned researcher in Dissociation and author of “The Stranger in the Mirror – Dissociation- The Hidden Epidemic” states that dissociation symptoms and disorders are far more prevalent in the general population than previously recognized.

There are five core symptoms of dissociation:

  1. Amnesia- The inability to account by memory for a specific and significant block of time that has passed.
  2. Depersonalization – A feeling of detachment from yourself or looking at yourself as an outsider would. May feel separated from parts of your body or from your emotions.
  3. Derealization- Feel detachment from your environment or a sense that the environment is not real or foreign.
  4. Identity Confusion- Feeling of uncertainty, puzzlement, or conflict about who you are.
  5. Identity Alteration- Is a shift in role or identity, accompanied by such changes in your behavior that are observable to others as speaking in a different voice or using different names.

Dissociative symptoms run across a continuum from having no symptoms to moderate to severe symptoms. People who experience severe symptoms generally have a dissociative disorder. People with disorders have episodes that are persistent, recurrent, and disruptive to social relationships or job performance. The dissociative disorders are: Dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalization disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID), and dissociative disorder not otherwise specified.

Stress does not have to be scary or disruptive. Once understood and identified, it can be regulated and manageable. A student can only be as successful as their social and emotional health permits. Being mindful of your emotions is a sign of health. Michigan State University Extension has a variety of community-based social-emotional health programs and materials available across the state available to adults, youth, families and as a work-site wellness program. 

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