[MENTAL WELLNESS] The Effects Of Stress

By Marianne Dublado, LMSW
Clinical Case Manager
St. Hope Foundation

Did You Know?…

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace.
  • Our bodies are designed to respond to stress with the intention of protecting us from threats of predators. We are faced with numerous pressures each day. What most people don’t know is that these pressures of daily life, such as enormous workloads, are treated by our bodies as life threatening threats. Our brain, as powerful as it is, cannot differentiate between the multiple degrees of stress.

Let’s say that you are evacuating your home because a hurricane is coming to town. (Side note: Hurricane season is coming, so be prepared). When we come across this as a threat, our brain triggers an alarm system in our body, from a part of our brain called the hypothalamus. The reaction from this alarm system is a release of hormones, including Adrenaline and Cortisol, because our body then goes into a fight or flight response.

Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and increases energy supplies that our body needs. Our body doesn’t know what the stress is, so the adrenaline pumps us up to fight.

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and it increases sugars in your blood stream and boosts your brain’s use of glucose. Because your body is on survival mode and needs all the energy it can get, the cortisol adjusts the energy intake of the other systems in our body. It suppresses our immune, digestive and reproductive system response and growth processes. When the alarm in our brain is triggered, it also communicates with the parts of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.

Once the threat has passed, i.e. the hurricane is no longer a threat, our hormone levels go back to normal. As the adrenaline and cortisol level decrease in our body, our heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels and the other systems in our body can resume regular activities.

Here is the problem we are currently seeing with the general public. When stressors are ALWAYS present in our body, (work problems, family problems, school problems), then your body will constantly feel under attack and your fight or flight reaction is ALWAYS turned on.

The fight or flight alarm system is meant to be short term. When it becomes a long term issue, our body will have an exposure to high cortisol levels and other stress hormones. This affects our entire body and gives us an increased risk of the following health problems:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • digestive problems
  • heart disease
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • weight gain
  • memory and concentration impairment

So what can we do to make sure that our stress levels are controlled? Make sure to take some time for yourself each day. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Exercising (walking, jogging, yoga, bike riding, Zumba)
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Listening to music
  • Watching a movie
  • Getting a Mani/pedi

Make sure to take time for yourself now, every minute counts!