How Stress Can Affect Your Health

By: Shoshanah Marcus  |  September 30, 2020

By Shoshanah Marcus, News Editor

As many things continue to face a downward trajectory due the coronavirus pandemic, one thing has increased drastically: stress. Whether it be in one’s personal or professional life, stress has integrated itself as part of the human experience. According to the “American Psychological Association,” 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month. Though some level of stress is necessary for survival, especially to detect and avoid dangerous situations, too much stress can be detrimental to one’s health. 

When someone’s brain confirms that they are in a threatening or stressful situation, a signal is sent to their hypothalamus; the part of the brain that releases hormones. The short term impact is a “flight or flight” response that physiologically prepares them to either fight for their survival or avoid the situation. In response to stressful stimuli, their heart races, breath quickens, muscles tense and the hormone adrenaline is secreted, getting the body ready to fight off potential threats. However, the long term effect of stress can result in activation of the pituitary gland, the major gland in controlling the production of hormones, secreting adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone is then sent to the adrenal glands and produces a hormone called corticosteroid (cortisol). Cortisol allows the body to maintain a consistent blood sugar, which can be useful when dealing with a stressful situation. The goal of cortisol is to bring the body back to normal, but the downside of the hormone is that it suppresses the immune system. 

High amounts of cortisol, which are typically released in response to long periods of stress, can have a detrimental effect on one’s physical health, resulting in an increased susceptibility to disease. According to the “American Psychological Association, researchers studied the impact of the stressful conditions of medical school on medical students and “among other things, they found that the students’ immunity went down every year under the simple stress of the three-day exam period. Test takers had fewer natural killer cells, which fight tumors and viral infections. They almost stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells responded only weakly to test-tube stimulation.” This study confirms that stressed people are more likely to catch disease due to heightened cortisol release.

Not only do high levels of stress impact one’s physical health, but poor management of stress can breed an unhealthy lifestyle. Without proper techniques to manage stress taught at a young age, one can experience serious long-term detriments to one’s lifestyle. According to a study conducted by the “American Psychological Association in 2011, “[a]lmost a third of adults say they skipped a meal because of stress in the past month. Two-fifths reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress. And more than 40 percent reported that they had lain awake at night.” Improper management of stress can breed an inconsistent and unhealthy lifestyle, making one’s physical and emotional health worse-off.

Especially during these unprecedented and uncertain times, it is important to find ways to minimize stress. Whether it is working out, journaling, meditating, talking to friends and family, or listening to music, each person has their own way of destressing. It is crucial to develop techniques to destress in order to maintain physical and emotional health as well as a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

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