The New York Times reports that Americans are one of the most stressed people in the world according to a 2018 Gallup survey. (Chokshi, 2019)
In Part 1, I will be discussing the problem of stress in our lives. First, I will discuss the definition of stress, how stress affects the body, and then I will discuss the health issues associated with chronic stress. In Part 2, I will share effective solutions for stress.
But what is stress?
According to Dr. Firdaus Dharbhar, director of research at the Stanford Center on Stress & Health, stress is defined as a cascade of events that begins with a stressor. The stressor stimulates a reaction in the brain which activates the fight or flight response. Our body releases steroid hormones including adrenaline and cortisol to increase our energy to help us deal with the challenge. (Good Stress. Bad Stress, 2012)
Stress is a healthy and natural response to a challenge and it’s helped us survive as a species. When we are threatened and in danger, the stress response is protective. Our hearts beat faster to circulate nutrients and blood to give us energy. Our muscles tense to be ready to run or lift or fight back. Our lungs expand to take in more oxygen. Our pupils dilate so that we can see better and our brains become more focused and sharp. (American Psychological Association, nd.) We can use these benefits of stress when we take an exam or participate in an athletic competition or give a presentation at work.
The problem is that our brains aren’t very good at distinguishing between real threats and danger and everyday pressures, deadlines, and responsibilities. The body responds to both in the same way. If we have time to recover from stressful experiences, our body goes back to normal. But, when the source of stress is constant and when the body is continually in the stress response without periods of recovery- and this continues over months and years, this creates a condition called chronic stress.
Chronic stress is detrimental to our health.
Researcher Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Melon University found in a 2012 study that chronic stress decreases the body’s ability to regulate inflammation (Carnegie Mellon University, 2012) Inflammation is connected to many physical and mental health conditions.
People with chronic stress can get sick more easily and they can be more susceptible to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some types of cancer. They are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety, and they can develop chronic symptoms such as chronic pain, digestive issues, and sleep disorders. (American Psychological Association, n.d.)
Now that I have told you about the problem of stress and especially chronic stress, I will tell you about some solutions in Part 2. You can link here for the next part: The Solutions to Chronic Stress: Part 2.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body
Carnegie Mellon University. (2012, April 2). How stress influences disease: Study reveals inflammation as the culprit. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162546.htm
Chokshi, Niraj. (2019, April 25). Americans are Among Most Stressed People in the World, Poll Finds. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/us/americans-stressful.html
Good Stress. Bad Stress: Research identifies health impact of different responses. (2012, December 12). Retrieved from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/12/good-stress-bad-stress.html