Stress and Its’ Effects on Health Essay
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 hormones elevate your heart rate, boost your blood pressure and stop digestion. Second are the symptoms that you are physically aware of such as clenched teeth, headaches and emotional upset. The most common and recognizable symptoms of stress are the ones most of us know all too well: insomnia, headaches, jawpain, heartburn, nausea, anxiety, fidgeting, lateness and trouble focusing or lack of interest in work or activities that are normal interesting.
For example behavioral changes that lead to other conditions can also be signs of stress, like addictive tendencies such as smoking, alcohol use, excessive eating, gambling or any other addictive behaviors that can be interpreted as an escape from the stressor. Often even if it is fleeting many of us will search for an escape so we can escape for a while. Imagine a college student overwhelmed to finish two papers by the end of the week, upcoming exams, and a fight she had with her best friend.
Then her mother calls to tell her that her grandfather is sick in the hospital. This student already extra anxious come Friday, may agree to go out with her friends to forget about her problems for a while. Once out, the alcohol flows and a temporary release from what feels like continuous stress ensues. But what happens when someone habitually uses alcohol or drugs as means of coping with stressful situations? Substance abuse itself becomes the stressor, triggering a cycle of use that can ultimately result in the development in addiction.
And while you might get some temporary relief from stress through that drug or behavior that you become addicted to, that relief is short lived, so you need more in order to continue coping with it. And because addictions themselves bring with them further stress such as withdrawal symptoms that are experienced when a drug wears off, more and more of the addictive substance is needed to cope with the additional stress involved. From this perspective, it is clear that some people are vulnerable to addictions than others simply due to the amount of stress in their lives.
For example, there is now a well- established link between child abuse and whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual and the later development of addiction to drugs and behaviors. Childhood abuse is extremely stressful on the child, but continues to cause problems as that child matures into an adult, with consequential problems in forming relationships and with self- esteem. Not that everyone who was abused as a child develops an addiction and not everyone with an addiction was abused as a child.
The point is that the vulnerability of survivors of child abuse to later addiction is a clear example of the connection between stress and addiction. There has also been a link shown between stress hormones and addictions too, think of the habitual smoker- what is the first thing he or she does when feeling stressed out? Lights up a cigarette right? Well, that is due to certain people by nature being more sensitive than others to developing an addiction because of a particular gene code. So what is really the relationship between stress and physical illness? It is an interesting question that nobody can really answer for sure.
Although it is known that stress does not cause most illnesses it seems to worsen or increase the risks of getting certain diseases. Researchers have long suspected that stressed out, type A personality people have a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart problems(webmd. com). Stress might have a direct effect on the heart and blood vessels. It is also possible that stress can be related to other problems; such as increased likelihood of smoking or obesity, that indirectly increase the heart risks. Doctors also know that sudden emotional stress can be a trigger for serious cardiac problems, including heart attacks.
The hormone cortisol is caused by a high level of stress and is deposited in the abdomen causing obesity. Excess fat in the belly region seems to pose a greater health risk than fat on the legs or hips and unfortunately also contributes to our next health condition which is Diabetes (unm. edu). Stress can worsen Diabetes in two ways: First, it increases the likelihood of bad behaviors, such as unhealthy eating habits and excessive drinking. Second, it seems to raise the glucose levels of people with type II Diabetes directly (abcnews. ov) A common affliction in stressed out people is Gastrointestinal problems. Usually they will have a lot of indigestion, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and IBS. Although it does not cause ulcers like commonly thought, it does make them worse. (everydayhealth. com) Their have been many studies done to show that asthma is worsened by stress. Some evidence even shows that a parents’ level of stress might even increase the risk of developing asthma in their children. The kids with the stressed out parents had a substantially higher risk of developing asthma (web. md).
In animal studies it has been found that stress may worsen Alzheimer’s Disease, causing it’s brain lesions to form more quickly. Some researchers speculate that reducing stress has the potential to slow down the progression of the disease. So with all of these conditions that are worsened by stress, and the stress itself it is no wonder that chronic stress is connected with higher rates of depression and anxiety. One survey of recent studies found that people who had stress related to their jobs, like demanding work with few rewards had an average of 80% higher risk of developing depression than people with lower stress (cdc. ov). And finally we have Hyperventilation Syndrome. Under normal circumstances when a person is not doing anything that requires activity, breathing should be easy, even, slow and deep. With increased activity breathing rate goes up to meet increased ventilation and the metabolic demands of the body. But in some people breathing is too rapid even at rest. When this rapid breathing results in excessive loss of carbon dioxide it is called hyperventilation. Hyperventilation has been known for years to be the cause and the result of stress, emotional and psychophysiological disorders.
Hyperventilating may have an emotional cause, fright, anxiety, agoraphobia or other signs of emotion may lead it. Most people can recognize the sudden or acute hyperventilation that may arise from a frightful situation. But chronic is quite subtle and its effects may not invariably be obvious. Typically the breathing is very shallow, with almost imperceptible breathing movements, often accompanied by a lot of sighing. Hyperventilation is the most common of the so called related breathing disorders, it accounts for roughly 60% of emergency room visits in major US Hospitals.
All of this is very dangerous because low levels of blood oxygen are said to be the cause of ischemic heart disease. If your mind and body are constantly on edge because of excessive stress in your life, you may face serious health problems because your “fight or flight” reaction is constantly on. When you encounter perceived threats, your hypothalamus, sets off an alarm system in your brain. Through a combination of hormonal signals this system prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.
The long term activation of the stress response system and overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of ischemic heart disease, sleep problems, digestive issues, depression, obesity, memory impairment and so much more. In conclusion, your body’s stress reaction was meant to protect you, but when it’s constantly on alert, your health can pay a big price. Take the necessary steps to control your stress level.
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