There is a powerful connection between health and stress. This connection has been the subject of many studies; both scientists and researchers came close to distinctly establishing this connection. Perhaps, they have already done it. Stress significantly impacts the general well-being of an individual. Thus many scientists have carried out research to find out exactly how this happens and why it has to happen. This paper is based on recent research findings on the subject of health and stress, and it has closely analyzed some of the intriguing arguments that scientists have postulated concerning this topic. Indeed, there is a distinct connection between health and stress. Stress is a cause of poor health, thus the paper reviews research to support this thesis.
Stress is both a mental and a physical condition. It is the body’s response to any stimulus that threatens or challenges the life and well-being of an individual or an organism. Such a stimulus is called a stressor, and the physiological response it engenders is stress. It is an amalgam of the bodily and psychological changes that a person must undergo in order to cope with the stressor. Stress could be a result of positive or negative events, but what determines whether the event is stressful is the individual’s perception. If they feel that the event puts on the pressure with which they cannot cope, then the event becomes a stressor.
The body goes through different stages of transformation in order to deal with stressful stimuli and ensure its survival. The transformations are behavioral, physiological, and mental. Once the mind identifies a situation as stressful, transformations take place in order to cope with the new situation. For some time, it seemed that stress was only the psychological response to stimuli that threaten the survival or well-being of an individual. However, years of research have shown that there are distinct chemical changes that take place when an individual is exposed to stressors. This is a key factor in appreciating the fact that there is a compelling connection between stress and the health of an individual.
Phases of Stress
The three phases of stress are alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. All these stages are characterized by distinct physical, behavioral, and physiological characteristics. These responses are all meant to cope with the stressors. An individual must not necessarily pass through all the three stages of stress, but if the stressor is not removed, one stage progresses to the next, and the effects become evident gradually.
At the alarm stage, the individual identifies the stressor, and his (or her) body immediately responds in a bid to cope with the stress. The nervous system raises the conscious awareness, and signals sent to the sympathetic nervous system induce the release of the so-called stress hormones, the glucocorticoids. The heart beats faster, and blood is diverted from the gut, hence causing high incidences of indigestion at the initial stage of stress. Blood is directed away from the extremities to muscle tissue, and catecholamines, which are fight or flight hormones, are released into the bloodstream. These physiological changes are aimed at producing a burst of energy that would be instrumental in dealing with stress, especially stress that puts the individual’s life in immediate danger.
Psychologically, the areas of the brain responsible for consciousness and awareness are activated, and an individual’s awareness of the environment is heightened. Areas where memories of similar past experiences are stored as well as the individual’s limbic system become activated. This explains the intense emotional response to stressful stimuli. The limbic system, in fact, augments the activation of the autonomic nervous system.
The behavioral manifestation of stress at its initial stage is based on the physiological and psychological reactions of the body. There is a marked loss of appetite, irritability, and impatience. People under stress may become irrational and emotional as a result of the emotional effect of stress.
In the resistance phase, the person under stress puts up a fight trying to cope with the stress. In this phase, the person still has enough energy reserves. The individual exhausts his energy reserves because he tries to adapt to change. An adjustment of one’s lifestyle is one of the things that happen here. During this phase, the individual’s strength slowly wanes, and if the stressor is not done away with, the stress progresses to the third stage.
When the resistance put up by an individual to stress does not yield the desired results, then stress progresses to the exhaustion stage. At this stage, the individual is burnt out, tired, and wasted. He or she has finished his energy reserves. During this time, an individual is particularly vulnerable to other stressors and disease. The prolonged effects of stress interfere with the body’s chemical and hormonal balance, and the defenses of the body are at their worst. Here, the effects of stress become visible on an individual, and concerned family members begin getting worried about the well-being of the individual. The general health of the person deteriorates, and he/she makes frequent visits to health facilities to seek treatment. Migraines, body aches, and ulcers are some of the manifestations of this stage of stress.
Effects of Stress
The chemical changes in the body as it attempts to adapt to stress are some of the reasons why stress has a discernible effect on the body. There are a lot of various effects of stress like social, effects, and health effects. This paper will focus more on the aftermath of stress on an individual’s health than on the social and economic effects. In any case, most of the social and economic effects of stress are secondary results of the impact of stress on the body.
As has been elaborated, stress causes distinct changes in body function as the body tries to cope with new and, in many cases, unfamiliar demands. A number of the changes induced by stress are short-term, but they usually lead to more permanent changes which culminate in disease. There is considerable debate on whether stress is a primary cause of poor health or poor health comes as a secondary effect of stress. Studies indicate that stress could indeed be a primary cause of ill health.
According to the reliable research findings, pathophysiological responses that operate in the cardiovascular system are influenced by stress on an immediate level. It has been proven that stressful stimuli induce the release of catecholamines into the bloodstream, and this causes an increase in the heart rate and a general increase in the blood pressure in the body. Studies suggest that an interaction of stressful stimuli and psychological, genetic, and environmental risk factors can transform the problem into a chronic form of hypertension. Moreover, studies have also indicated that anti-stress treatment can supplement medicinal treatment for hypertension. From the foregoing, the link between stress and hypertension is clear.
Moreover, stress predisposes an individual to infections. Research conducted by reliable sources has linked prolonged stress to a reduction in the immunity of the body. As stress progresses from one stage to the next, chemicals are released into the bloodstream to prepare the body for dealing with the stressor and also for modulating the unpleasant effects of stress on the brain. Glucocorticoids and neuropeptide Y are examples of such chemicals. It has been shown that interactions between hormones and neuropeptides acting on their receptors alter immunologically significant events such as lymphocyte proliferation. Indeed, it has been shown that prolonged secretion of glucocorticoids during stress contributes to the adverse effects of stress on the immune system. These substances slow down the proliferation of lymphocytes. Therefore, lymphocytes cannot divide well enough to combat infection in reasonable time. When the defenses of the body are down, infections take root, and this explains the cause of frequent infections during stress.
Another medical complication associated with stress is ulcers of the stomach. For a long time, it was thought that stress was the leading cause of stomach ulcers. Recent studies, however, have shown that peptic ulcers are mainly caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. However, other reliable studies have proven that stress can cause stomach ulcers by the inhibition of synthesis and secretion of a protein that aids in the repair of damaged stomach tissue. Moreover, stress can worsen the symptoms of stomach ulcers because of the induction of secretion of high levels of hydrochloric acid.
Stress can be demonstrably linked to poor health for a number of reasons. First, there are chemical changes that take place in the body as it tries to cope with stress. These chemical changes, if prolonged, may make the body weaker and more defenseless than if they occur over a short period. Eventually, they may lead to pathological processes that cause disease. Moreover, the social impact of stress may lead to disease since, under intense stress, individuals forego the routines that keep them healthy. The change in lifestyle may end up negatively affecting an individual’s health. Indeed, stress can lead to poor health, especially if it is prolonged.
Research on this topic has pivotal implications on the future of the field of psychology. The connection of stress to certain pathological conditions should spur reinvigorated research on stress therapy. Stress therapy could lead to the discovery of the treatment of various diseases. Moreover, such studies will lead to the exploration of more options for the medicinal treatment of stress. Hence, the research centered on stress and health could have a tremendous impact on the field of psychology.
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