Stress is inevitable in our lives. It is something that causes us to react with a fight or flight response. This response is something that has protected us through the ages. When confronted with a perceived dangerous situation, a chemical reaction in the body takes place that can improve alertness and our ability to move quickly. This allows us to flee the danger. If stress continues without relief, it can have a negative, wearing effect long term.
The acute symptoms of stress are a rapid heart rate, dry mouth, clenched jaw, muscle tension; possible upset stomach and loss of appetite. Long-term symptoms include depression, eating disorders, skin and hair problems, and chronic fatigue.
In the US, forty-three percent of all adults suffer from adverse health effects. Three quarters of all doctor visits are for stress-related complaints. Stress can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic headaches, arthritis, asthma and anxiety. If left unchecked, there is a 50% chance that it will evolve into a chronic emotional disorder.
Occasional stress can be dealt with, but when stress is continuous an interesting phenomenon sets in. At its most extreme, it is something that occurs in those who are living in abusive situations. At a lesser extreme it can occur with chronic job stress. In both examples, individuals become used to a continuous level of stress and the health effects can be substantial.
An alarming possibility is that stress can cause or spread cancer. It can do this in a couple of ways. In reaction to stress people may adopt behaviors such as smoking, drinking and overeating all of which increase the risk of developing certain cancers. In addition, psychological studies have found in animal studies that stress can affect the ability of a tumor to grow.
A study of women with triple-negative breast cancer treated with chemotherapy that used beta-blockers, medications that interfere with stress hormones, before and after their treatments had a better chance of surviving than those who did not use the beta-blocker. There is also data to suggest that those who feel helpless or hopeless during treatment have higher death rates.
For all of the above reasons, it is important to find ways to cope with stress. Exercise, talk therapy, meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques and finding support from friends and family can be helpful. Sometimes, medication is necessary.
There will always be stress. That is how life works. The key is to recognize what is going on in your body and find constructive ways of dealing with it.
“Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
– Hans Selye