Stress has been a common “illness” among professional’s alike and ordinary people. Several have been claiming that they are stress out. This claim has resulted to numerous drugs that are available over the counter to reduce stress. In addition, stress reliever sessions and classes have also been put up by psychologists or even gym instructors just for the purpose of reducing the stress that a person is feeling. What is stress and what causes it? Psychologically speaking, stress is defined as a reaction to a stimulus that can affect both the physical and mental equilibrium. As a result, it can cause numerous disturbances in both a person’s physical body and the mental state depending on the strength or the reaction of the person to such situation.
Definition of stress
Different psychologists view stress in different ways. The author of Article 43 views the definition of stress as largely subjective because a stressor for person can be positive influence to another person . Thus, it can be said that it is a shortened view of the word distress that causes “physical, mental, emotional strain or tension” (Article 43). Eric Wargo further says that based on several studies he has read, stress is very powerful in the sense that it is capable of causing deterioration in all aspect, in a person, from simple colds to cancer, which proves the connection between the state of a person’s mind and body.
Causes of Stress
As the author of Article 43 puts in, the causes of stress are not the same for everybody. A stressor for a particular person may not be a stressor for another person. There are also one time stressors but sometimes stress is cumulative. The cause of stress can be something that started from the early stages of a person’s life like child abuse or neglect which later on lead to chronic depression. Other sources of stress can be from the effects of daily activities like being stress from work, needing to pay something abruptly or problems with family. These stressors, when “piled-up” can lead to diseases or even affect the emotional and mental state of the person.
How stress works
Several studies have shown proofs that stress is bad for health, and there is a strong connection between a person’s health and stress. Hans Selye, a psychologist who first used the word stress in the 1930’s, discovered that a hormone named cortisol can be the major reason people who are stress usually has an illness connected to stress. However, cortisol can help a person cope with the effects of stress. The discovery of cortisol by Selye has been supported by other researches one of which is the research conducted John Cacioppo and Louise Hawkley from the University of Chicago. They studied the health effects of social isolation and they found out that among those middle-aged and older adult group of people who consider themselves lonely, their cortisol level also increases. The increase in cortisol level in turn may speed up the decline of their physical self.
Stress is said to originate when the brain perceives danger which later on alters some parts of the brain structure like the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and amygdale. These two parts of the brain are particularly responsible in governing the perception and provide an appropriate response to the threat. While the brain perceives danger, there is also increase in the cortisol level thereby increasing the exposure of a person to the hormone. Because of the prolonged exposure, it affects the growth of new neurons in the mPFC that results in the increased growth of amygdale neurons that are responsible for controlling the fear and other emotional responses of a person.
Aside from cortisol, other stress hormones present in the brain also affects the growth of other neurons in other parts of the brain like the hippocampus that is responsible for storing new memory. This is one explanation why stressed people tend to have memory lapses. A persons HPA axis work as a thermostat, thus when chemicals in the hypothalamus tries to produce more than what is normal, it inhibits the release of stress hormones needed to control the chemicals. When this happens, the thermostat of the body needs to adjust accordingly. Problems start when the brain perceives that stress is present even if it is not because somehow it becomes immune.
Stress is not always the result of a onetime activity as a work deadline, psychologist studying on how stress comes around found out that stress is cumulative. Although there are several “big” stressors that can give a person stress right away, small things can also add-up and give similar effects to the well-being of a person. Sometimes, it takes years before the symptoms of stress come out in a certain person. An example of this is PTSD. A recent study showed that PSTD may be caused by several stressors piling up like building blocks, and then remodeled rather than being a onetime result of a trauma (Danger! Danger!). To further illustrate this situation, Bruce McEwan of Rockfeller University developed the concept of “allostatic load” in 1998. Results of his study showed that people with heavy allostatic load tend to be more prone to health problems like cancer or erectile dysfunction. This is just another concrete proof of the strong connection between stress and the health of a person.
Effects of Stress
Stress must not be taken lightly as it can be deadly in some ways. The physical, emotional and mental state of a person can be affected by stress when not given the corresponding attention it requires.
The most common and most notable effects of stress are related to the health of a person. Studies have proven that stress increases the risks of cancer and heart diseases. Psychologists believe that the changes in the brain caused by stress and depression has the most disturbing effect on the health of a person. What is more insulting is the fact that stress has a self-perpetuating effect. This means that a result of stress can cause more stress to a person that adds up to the injury. For example, a simple depression can be a stressor, but because a person has not coped up with his depression for a long time, then his risk of incurring heart disease would also increase. The situation can add up to the stress the person feels until such time that he’ll not be able to cope anymore. Another common result of stress is smoking and overeating. These two activities may not be very dangerous on the health of a person if done once in a while but once become a habit, it can lead to lung cancer or obesity. Likewise, recent findings have also shown that to have effects of a person’s immune system.
Coping with Stress
Coping with stress is a personal thing because individuals differ in their coping abilities. However, psychologists have come up with numerous ways to help individuals suffering from stress. A study conducted at the McGill University in Montreal using mother and infant rats using behavior as a model of early life stress and its later ramifications in humans showed that a person’s coping ability to stress is developed as early as infancy. (Turning the Stress Response) One problem is that sometimes the stress response of the body, that is supposed to be a person’s first defense against stress, seems to be biased by perceiving more threat. (A Good Response Gone Bad)
A great challenge for experts has been “understanding the mechanisms by which thoughts and feelings and other “mental” stuff can affect bodily health” in order for them to come up with the right solutions and cure. (Mind Body Mechanisms)
Coping with stress has some bearing on the personality of a person. Persons with “Type A” personalities are more prone to health diseases since these people are known for being competitive, impatient and aggressive. People who are persistent are also prone to health problems caused by stress because when they do not meet their goals frustration, lack of sleep and exhaustion is developed. On the other hand, people with positive emotional style are less likely to be affected by stress because see failures on a more positive side. (Stressed-out Personalities)
Most people take the symptoms of stress lightly; however, they do not know that stress is already working through the immune system and the brain. People most commonly finds out that they are stressed and that stressed has taken its toll when they realize that they are already suffering from physical, emotional or mental problems. At the first sign of stress, a person has to seek assistance from professionals on how to face it. However, a person should not depend on the health professionals because what is more important is the person’s attitude towards facing his stressors.
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