It’s 11pm and the night before an important assignment deadline; you are drinking exceeding amounts of caffeine, your heart is racing and your concentration is at all-time low as you sweat through the late night and early morning in hope to complete your paper in time. After you successfully submitted your finished assignment, you promise yourself to never repeat another nerve-racking night like that again, but just like Dory from finding Nemo, you find yourself panicking in a caffeine-fuelled night yet again. Sounds familiar?
Stressful situations like these have a significant impact on your wellbeing and health without you noticing, and understanding the effects of stress on your body may make you reconsider leaving work to the last minute and pull that all-nighter.
Stress can be defined as a “state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse circumstances”, and by definition it is caused by “stressors”, which are situations that induce a stress response. The typical stressors are either environmentally dangerous situations, such as being attacked, or psychosocial (meaning thought-induced) stressors, such as the act of public speaking.
So what happens to a body under stress? TEDed created a nice and clear animation (How Stress Affects Your Body) explaining the biological changes caused by stress. Basically, when the human central nervous system (that is your brain and spinal cord) detects a stressor, the primal survival instinct kicks in, producing the familiar “fight or flight” response. In little doses, this primal response has proven to be evolutionary advantageous in dangerous situations.
The “fight or flight” response is one great cascade of various biological events that involves sudden changes in the nervous, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems. Immediately after stressors have been detected, the so called stress hormones (i.e. epinephrine, cortisol) are produced to make use of the bodily energy stores. The stress hormones amplify the amount of blood sugar present within the bloodstream and increase heart rate to activate muscle and brain cells, allowing your body to react significantly quicker than usually in dangerous situations.
But what happens when this stress response is activated for long periods of time? Continuous production of stress hormone production directly impacts the human body; for example, make you heart work harder, damage the arterial tissues and weaken the immune response. That is why chronic stress (prolonged stress that significantly impacts one’s life) is linked to a whole myriad of diseases- heart disease, obesity, diabetes, migraines, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease and even premature death. The list is never-ending.
It is interesting to note that people detect identical, stressful circumstances in individually different ways. Some people are naturally better at coping with stress, whilst others are more aware of being stressful by nature. Therefore, it is important for people who, by nature, are less successful at managing stress have the opportunity to learn and use techniques to better cope with everyday stress to improve their wellbeing, quality of life and reduce health risks associated with stress.
So what are some useful stress-relief techniques? Main advice on reducing your stress levels given by the American Psychological Association include:
1) attempt looking at world more positively,
2) identify causes behind your worry,
2) when angry, try to calm yourself down and walk away,
3) get plenty of sleep,
4) don’t be afraid of seeking help when you require it.
If you have been feeling particularly tense for an extensive length of time, click on the link above to find out more information on self-help, and if necessary, do consult a metal health specialist for the benefit of your wellbeing.
Relatively recently, a study carried out by psychologists at the City University of New York examined the effect of physical activity (as stress-reductants) on the well-being of college students. Scientists tested the influence of swimming, yoga, fencing and body training; and they found out that students who exercised yoga reported feeling less depressed and anxious after the class than before the class. So it would not seem too late to allocate a time slot for yoga practice in that crammed exam revision plan, right?
The human body is a marvellous compilation of intricate machinery, and the various mechanisms that take place to act upon stress is yet another proof of that. So the last, but most important question to answer is, after reading this article, would you still leave important work until the night before the assigned deadline?