Stress. We all experience it is our daily lives. Whether you are at the top of a roller coaster that’s about to drop, going on your very first date, or even having your first-born child. There are many different types of stress. Stress can be a good thing or a bad thing. For example, a little stress could help a person ace an interview, but on the other hand long-term stress can cause the stress response to shut down causing many negative physical and mental effects. “Stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension” (Definition of Stress). Stress is a normal and we response to it in our everyday life pressures but how we take on that stress and handle it is critical.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word stress? Is it all the homework you have to do? Or is it all of the family problems and life issues you are having? So many of us automatically think of stress as negative, but in reality stress can also be a good thing. People become stressed for many different reasons. Research done by the Center for Disease Control and the American Instuite of Stress has found that the top ten causes of stess are the death of a loved one, childhood trauma, divorace, finances, employmeny, poor health, personal relationships, chronically ill child, pregnancy, and danger or fear (Top ten Causes of Stress). There are many postivite stressor that many people may not even condiser stress because they want to do these stressor such as, planning your wedding, having a baby, finding your true love, or going on vacation. Research has shown that if our levels of stress are under control, they can make us more alert and perform better under pressure. When we get our adrenaline pumping, we can also become exited thought stress. Everyday stress is okay and can even be a good thing, stress only becomes a problem when is it excessive or long term. It then can cause the stress response to overreact and cause negative physical effects, such as a weaken immune system, stomach problems, or difficulty sleeping. It can then also effect a person emotionally and make them become depressed or tensed (Segal, 2016).
When stress occurs, there is a process that occurs in our bodies, called the stress response. First, the nervous system reacts to stressors. Stressors can be anything that causes the release of stress hormones. Our body will first judge if this stressor is a threat or not. The decision is based on sensory input and processing, and also stored memory. Examples of sensory inputs are things we see and hear. If body senses the situation we are in is stressful, our hippocampus is activated, which activates certain hormones. There are two kinds of stress hormone levels, resting cortisol levels and reactive cortisol levels. Resting cortisol levels are the normal everyday levels for normal functioning. Reactive cortisol levels are increased in cortisol in response to stressors. There are two broad categories of stressors: physiological stressors, which are anything that outs a strain on your body and psychological stressors, which are situations that our body interprets as threating. Our hypothalamus in is in charge of the stress response and if it is triggered, it sends signals to the pituitary gland, and the adrenal medulla, which produce the cortisol levels. The fight or flight Response via the Sympathomedullary pathway produces short-term responses. Long-term stress is regulated by the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal system. Some of the physically changes in the body during this time are faster heart rate, increased breathing, and increased blood pressure. These changes help us to react quickly and to be able to handle the stress.
Short-term stress responses and long term stress responses create different effects in the body. An example of activating your short-term stress response would be one being pulled into an alleyway by a stranger. This short-term stress event causes glycogen to be broken down to glucose and there is increased blood glucose. You experience an increased blood pressure, increased breathing rate, and increased metabolic rate. There is a change is your blood flow patterns, leading to increased alertness and decreased digestive and kidney activity. On the other hand, an example of a long-term stress response would be being held in a concentration camp or having to spend the rest of your life in prison. When you experience this kind of stress there is retention of sodium ions and water by the kidneys. You have an increased blood volume and blood pressure. Proteins and fats are brown down and converted to glucose, leading to increased blood glucose. Finally, your immune system may be suppressed.
Stress that is long term can mentally drain a person and can cause cognitive effects, emotionally effects or personality changes. Examples of cognitive effects are constant worrying, confusion, difficulty concentrating, problems with decision-making and forgetfulness. This is because the constant presence of stress hormones can alter the operation of the nervous system. The stress hormones may decrease the functioning of brain cells in the hippocampus and in the frontal lobes. Examples of the emotional effects are having anxiety, fear, depression, anger, social isolation, problems in communication or frustration. Some people will experience these personality changes in response to stress hormones, which are part of their internal environment. These mental effects can lead to different types of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Many of these disorders have side effects that may include increased heart rate, sweaty palms, nausea, uncontrollable or obsessive thoughts, problems sleeping, shortness of breath and others. Stress leads to over activity of the body’s stress response (Mills).
Stress has physical symptoms are such as headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, change in sex drive, upset stomach, and trouble sleeping, but stress is also effecting our bodily systems, such as our circulatory system, digestive system, muscular system, reproductive system, and our respiratory system! Under stress, our circulatory system is affected, as our heart rate and blood pressure increases. If this stress is excessive, it can cause our body to have a stroke or heart attack. When stress causes nausea or an upset stomach, our digestive system is being affected. Prolonged stress can cause indigestion and loss or gain in body weight. The endocrine system produces sweat when affected by stress. It is common for people to experience sweaty palms or forehead while under stress. When people get stress, is it also common to become tense, which would therefore affect your muscular system. If the stress is prolonged, and the muscles are contracted for a long period of time, one can experience headaches, migraines, or body aches. Stress can also affect one’s sex drive and cause it to decrease. This effect would occur in the reproductive system. Finally, in your respiratory system, your breathing can become increased. If the stress is prolonged, hyperventilation or panic attacks can occur (Simon, 2016).
As we read, stress has many negative effects on our bodies, both physically and mentally, but lets not forget about the positive effects! Stress can be motivating! At times, stress is positive in that it is a great motivator. For example, you may have a lot of work due for school. All of this work is very stressful, but the stress motivates you to make a plan of when and how you are going to get it all done. Stress can also be a cognitive enhancer. Under stress, many people have claimed it improved some aspects of their intelligence (Knowlton, S). This is because stress helps our brain to focus, which can help people in things such as, job interviews, in school, and in work. Some studies have shown that stress helps with memory and recalling information, which is a result of slightly higher levels or cortisone so experiencing a little stress during a final could be a positive thing. It is important to remember that too high level of cortisone levels can be damaging to our hippocampus so the level of stress you put on yourself for test or presentation is important. Stress can also be a physically enhancer. This is because stress causes the release of adrenaline with speeds up your heart rate. This can result in increased reactions. This type of stress could play a positive role in winning a sport competition. Adrenaline can also help fight fatigue. It is important to remember that this type of stress should not be prolonged. Over a long period of time of having an increase heart rate, the stress can damage your immune system and cause heart problems (Knowlton, S).
Now that we discussed the negative and positive effects, both physically and mentally, lets talk about the stages of chronic stress and what each stage does to our body biologically. The first stage is when you are repeatedly exposed to a situation that causes your stress response to activate. During this time, your heart rate and breathing increases, your blood sugar level and blood pressure rises, and your digestion stops. If one experiences days of interrupted digestion, that person can start to experience heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation. The next stage is when things are now out of control. Your stress response is constantly activated and extracting stored energy. During this stage, your body can feel overworked or overwhelmed. Your body can begin to feel tensed. Also, you may experience cold or flu like symptoms. The third stage is actual chronic stage. The repeated activation of the stress response system causes wear and tear on ones body. Some of the most common health problems linked to chronic stress are heart disease, insomnia, depression and burnout. When our stress response system is activated, our energy is mobilized, but we need to replenish those energy stores. After a while of the wear and tear on our body from stress, our body can no loner do this efficiently (Stages of chronic stress).
Many people may be unaware, but stress affects our immune system. There are two main ways that stress has a direct, negative effect on the immune system. “One is it creates chronic inflammatory conditions and the second is it lowers the immunity of those who otherwise might have a healthy immune system” (Hansen, 2014). Our immune system is our body’s defense against infection. When harmful substances enter our bodies, our immune system attacks them, keeping us healthy and safe. In our immune system are white blood cells. There are two different types of white blood cells are lymphocytes and phagocytes. The lymphocytes play a major role of the immune systems. There are either B cells, which produce antibodies that destroy invading viruses and bacteria’s in the fluid surrounding the cells that would cause disease; or T cells, which are used if the cell gets invaded and help defend against them. When our body is under stress, it is harder for the immune system to fight off infections. This is because the ability to fight off antigens is reduced (McLeod, 2010). Cortisol suppresses lymphocytes and when lymphocytes are lowered, the body’s risk of infection and disease increases. Now lets focus back on the two main ways that stress affects our immune systems. The first, stress creates chronic inflammatory conditions. Cortisol suppresses inflammation during a response to stress. If this is present for to long, your body will become resistance to the cortisol and will not respond properly. It will instead ramp up production of substances that promote inflammation. The pro-inflammation substance is called cytokine and is associated with autoimmune conditions, which occur when the body mistakes itself as a threat and attacks itself! The second, main reason stress can affect our immune system is, it results in lower amounts of proteins that are critical to signaling other immune cells. Without this, our body is vulnerably to contacting acute illnesses and prolonged healing times (Hansen, 2014).
A study was on wound healing and the time is takes to heal. Dental students volunteered to receive small cut on the top of their mouth at two different times of the year. The first time was during summer break and the second time was during the week of their finals. During their finals week, the wounds of the cut took 40 percent longer to heal then they did during summer break. This is because of the amount of stress they were under! In addition to that finding, the study also concluded that the student’s level of a protein called IL-1, which summons other immune cells to battle, were two-thirds lower during the time of their finals than they were during their summer break (Bierma, 2016). ‘A different study was done to find the correlation between stress, the immune system, and infectious diseases. Vaccine studies have found that the immune system of highly stressed people have sluggish responses to challenges. A study administered a pneumonia vaccine to 52 older adults, 11 who were caring for their spouses who suffered from dementia. Just after six months, the levels of antibodies produced against pneumonia in the caregivers had dropped off, while the non-caregiver’s levels remained stable’ (Hansen, 2016).
Stress is a part of life and stress will never go away. We will find ourselves in stressful situations time and time again. In many cases, you will not be able to entirely change that event, but what you can do it change how you handle the situation. Managing your stress is important to your health and by following some simple stress management strategies you can be a healthier you! Some positive strategies to managing stress are eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep at night. Learning how to meditate and do breathing exercises can be very calming during a stressful time. Take some time for yourself and do some self-care. Pampering yourself every now and then can be very beneficial to your health. Have healthily relationships with your friends, family, and significant other. Healthy relationships are important because having a good support system can be helpful during stress. If you ever feel that your stress is to much to handle and none of the stress management strategies are working for you, seek professional help. There is always counseling available to those in need. Talk to a professional about your stressful problems and they can help guide you onto the right track.
Stress is not going anywhere. It will always be around us. If stress is acute, it can be positive and help our bodies both physically and mentally. It could help us ace our biology final or win first in our track competition. On the other hand, prolonged stress can effect our thinking and bodily systems. Excessive stress is linked to depression and anxiety. It can cause cognitive effects such as constant worrying, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. Constant or excessive stress affects one but many of our body systems, such as our circulatory system, digestive system, muscular system, reproductive system, and our respiratory system. In some more extreme cases, if this stress is too excessive, it can cause our body to have a stroke or heart attack. Stress is like an airplane. It always ready to take off, but you have to know how to fly the plane to make it to your destination. Flying a plane with no knowledge with end in a crash. Educate yourself on stress!