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Learn about somatization, the connection between the mind and body and how to get help if somatization becomes a problem.

Stress and thinking

What is somatization?

Our mind and body are always communicating with each other through chemicals and networks.

Messages between the brain and body travel along a channel called the nervous system. This acts like a two-lane highway. On one side, the brain, or nervous system, sends messages to the rest of the body to make muscles, organs and blood vessels work. On the other side, the body sends information back to the brain. For example, when you’re playing a game of soccer, your brain sends messages to your lungs to breathe faster. When your body gets too hot, it sends a message to the brain so it can sweat to cool itself down.

The communication system between the brain and body also helps protect us. For instance, when we touch something hot, we know to move away from it.

The other way our brain and body communicates is through somatization. This happens when our brain becomes stressed or emotional and our body tells us by feeling physical symptoms.

Somatization is something we all do. For example, when you feel embarrassed, you might blush (your face goes red) or, if you feel nervous, you might have butterflies in your stomach. Likewise, you might get a headache or a stomach pain if you are worried about something stressful such as an exam. These physical responses to thoughts or feelings are called somatic symptoms.

When do I need help for somatization?

Somatization can become a problem for some children and teens if their somatic symptoms start to affect their everyday lives. For instance, symptoms might make it hard to go to school, hang out with friends or do after-school activities.

Somatic symptoms are different for everyone, and they affect each person differently, because we each have different ways of expressing stress and emotions. Some people might develop a somatic symptom when they already have another medical condition, and others might develop it on its own.


Jenny’s body expresses stress through sharp stomach pain. This makes it hard for her to go to school. Even though her stomach pain is not caused by a virus or other medical condition, Jenny has real pain because her brain and body are expressing her stress this way.

The more Jenny worries about missing school, the more signals her brain and body send through the nervous system, which increases her somatic symptom of sharp stomach pain.

Mark has been living with epilepsy and is taking medication to help it. He also has arm movements that his doctor doesn’t feel is related to epilepsy or his medication. His body is expressing the stress and emotions he is feeling through the arm movements. Because of this, he has missed school and has had to quit his swim team.

The more Mark stresses about falling behind at school and having to quit the swim team, the more signals his brain and body send to increase his arm movements.

For both Jenny and Mark, the messages travelling between their brains and bodies can make their somatic symptoms continue or get worse the more they stress about them.

Getting help

Somatic symptoms are real. They are not made up.

We know that getting help for somatic symptoms can be confusing and sometimes frustrating. Sometimes people go to different doctors, or have different tests, and may hear there is ‘nothing wrong’ with their health. This is because somatic symptoms are your body’s way of expressing stress and emotion, which a medical test cannot show.

But there are many ways to get help with somatic symptoms.

One of the first things to do is to tell someone you trust. This may be a parent, family member, teacher or guidance counsellor. They can help connect you with a doctor who can offer help.

Once you see a doctor, you may also have some appointments with rehabilitation specialists like physiotherapists and occupational therapists and with mental health professionals like social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, depending on how long your symptoms have lasted. This is a good thing: they will help come up with a plan to help you with the somatic symptoms and help you return to regular activities.

You will be an important part of your health-care team as you work together to come up with a treatment plan that works for you and your body and put it into action.

Guided meditations

Below, you will find guided meditations that will help with somatic symptoms.

5 sensesaudio

How to use: This guided audio meditation helps you connect to the present moment using your sense of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Use this meditation when you want to ground yourself in the here and now or if you are having unwanted thoughts, feeling physical discomfort or uncomfortable emotions. Follow along with the meditation, bringing your awareness to each of your five senses in the moment.

The mountainaudio

How to use: This guided audio meditation helps you find a sense of stillness within yourself. Use it to find a place of stillness within your mind and body when you are feeling upset or agitated. Follow along with the meditation, taking time to visualize yourself as grounded and strong, like a mountain.

Last updated: March 21st 2019