19 December 2012
The Effects of Stress on Health
The term “stress” is derived from the Latin word stringere, or to draw tight. Stress causes blood capillaries to close, which restricts bleeding if a flesh wound should occur. Your pupils dilate during a stressful event much the same way they do in response to a physical attraction: to gather more visual information about a situation. Chronic stress floods the brain with powerful hormones and chemicals that are meant for short term emergency situations. All that long term exposure can damage, shrink and kill the brain cells. Stress increases the risk of pre-term labor and intrauterine infection. Additionally, chronic levels of stress place a fetus at a greater risk for developing stress related disorders and affect the fetus’s temperament and neurobehavioral development. Post-traumatic stress physically changes children’s brains; specifically, stress shrinks the hippocampus, a part of the brain that stores and receives memories. In 1967 two researchers, Doctors Holmes and Rahe concluded that there is a strong but real relationship between selected “life events” and illness. Their study was based on over five thousand patients that supported a widely held belief that stressful life events are a strong contribution to the onset of disease-not only psychosomatic disorders but also infectious diseases as well (Freid 37) The effects of stress on health are many including chronic and acute stress, worsening of numerous health conditions, causing addictive behaviors in those predisposed to it and is a major contributor to hyperventilation syndrome.
The real problem with stress is that for such a well understood and universally experienced condition, as a society we deal with it so poorly, that it leads to many of our most lethal illnesses and long term health problems. Cardiovascular Disease, Obesity, Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes, Depression and Anxiety, Asthma, and Gastrointestinal Disorders are all medical conditions across the spectrum that can be related to or directly influenced by high stress. Every one of us experiences stress in some way, shape or form. We all recognize when we’re stressed. At the same time stress is more than a feeling that we have a lot on our plate to deal with. There are two types of stress: Acute or short term, that is usually a response to a specific stressor or event, and chronic stress or long term that sticks with you. Acute stress is the type you would experience when you have an immediate reaction to something you’re presented with. This is a sort of “fight or flight” response that you have when you have to speak in front of your class, your boss just asked you to stay late after your shift, or you were startled by a loud noise. It is immediate and short term, once the stressor is removed your body and mind return to a normal state. Chronic stress is however totally different, and is characterized by it’s long term definition. This is a daily stress, with no reprieve from the things that make you feel stressed. Most chronic stressors are everyday situations, for example, your job in which you hate and detest going to everyday, being there all day, and even thinking about it when you leave. Or living paycheck to paycheck and struggling with that financial security issue is another source of chronic stress, that people are all too familiar with. Chronic stress is also the most dangerous to a person’s health and well- being. It keeps the body’s defenses activated and heightened longer than is generally healthy, and unfortunately more and more of us are living in a state that creates chronic stress. Add this to the fact that “Coping with Stress 101” isn’t a course offered in school and you have a recipe for disaster.
What is actually happening in our body at the time of stress is amazing too. The body shows signs of stress in two different ways: First, a rush of...