Stress is killing us. According to recent research, stress is the number one concern of high school students. In addition, eighty percent of people at work report suffering from stress. Those statistics demonstrate that stress will probably hunt people during their academic and professional lives despite their age. Stress is expected as a feeling, but how the human body reacts to it could cause devastating effects on one’s overall physical and mental health.
Within the human body, stress response begins in the brain. When confronting a stressful situation, it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain responsible for linking the nervous system to the organs capable of secreting hormones. This process leads to the excretion of a couple of hormones, which initiates a chain reaction ending in our adrenal glands, excreting both adrenaline and cortisol.
Many changes occur to the body under the influence of the last two hormones, leading to stress.
Is Stress Normal?
If experienced over a long period, it negatively impacts health and well-being. For instance, one of the most common stress effects on health is obesity. Many factors caused by stress lead to it. First, eating high in fat and sugary food increases serotonin levels. Not surprisingly, people with chronic stress tend to consume those foods to make themselves feel better.
On top of that, the human body releases excess cortisol when stressed. This hormone is proven to be critical in managing fat storage and energy use in the human body. However, it may increase appetite and cravings for sugary foods. In addition to that, recent studies suggest that food may be processed differently when under stress. This phenomenon is linked to a molecule called neuropeptide Y that is released during stress. This molecule encourages fat accumulation. Those three factors lead to higher risks of obesity, which can cause several health problems such as heart attacks.
The Immune System Can Be Weakened By Chronic Stress
Moreover, research by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and immunologist Ronald Glaser stated that students’ immunity went down every year under the simple stress of a three-day exam period.
On top of that, test takers had fewer natural killer cells and deficient production of immunity-boosting and infection-fighting cells. Those results opened a new gate of research. In 2004, psychologist Suzanne Segerstrom did many studies about the relationship between stress and health. The statistical analysis combining her research showed intriguing results. Stressed people had a burst of one type of first responder activity of the immune system and other signs of weakening immunity.
Stress Weakens The Immune System
People with the chronic stress of any duration suffer from weakening all aspects of immunity. This research clearly shows that dangerous levels of stress might end up destroying the overall health state. A weak immune system means that the body is exposed to all sorts of illnesses.
According to the American Psychological Association, 66 percent of people experience physical symptoms, and 63 percent experience psychological symptoms of stress. Not surprisingly, stress does affect not only our physical health but also our mental state. Many studies have shown a relationship between stress and mental health, but the reason remains unclear.
However, recent research conducted by the University of California has discovered a new insight into how stress could affect mental health. The studies have shown differences between the brain of an average person and a person with stress disorders—one of the main differences in the white matter to grey matter ratio. People who experience stress have white matter in some areas of the brain than usual. Everyone should take the effect of pressure in the brain seriously.
Understanding The Stress Response
This whole process initiates a stressor: an external stimulus that can cause stress. Stressors can differ from a person to another. For instance, one might feel stressed and overwhelmed because of an assignment overdue to the next week, while the other might not care about it that much. Stressors are inevitable; however, we should keep stress levels in check due to the destructive effects on our physical and mental health.
The difference in the ratio of brain matter means that people with stress disorders might have weak connectivity between different parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. If the connection between them is weak, shutting down stress or any reaction would become harder. It is possible that those changes, along with other factors, could cause the development of mental illness.
Short-term stress can also be harmful, especially if the stressor is highly traumatic or stressful. Someone affected may experience vivid nightmares and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Reasons for that remain unclear, but researchers suggest it is because the neurotransmitters and hormones involved in the normal stress response may become disrupted after the traumatic event.
Research also indicates that the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear, is hyperactive in people after highly stressful events, which leads to it creating false alarms. Short-term stress leads to other mental conditions such as anxiety and lack of concentration.
To conclude, stress is a normal feeling for human beings. However, experiencing stress for long durations might damage physical and mental health. The damages might range from increasing risks of suffering from obesity to causing heart attacks in the physical health level, and from causing trouble in concentration to depression in the mental health level.
For that reason, psychologists suggest that people who suffer from chronic stress have some ways to fight it. Click here to learn more about dealing with stress naturally. These include growing herbs at home, going for walks regularly, hanging out with friends, and shutting down negative self-talk.