©2002 Alva Irish
Reviews has compiled links for the best prices on the items throughout
the article. Click on product to go to the site. Each link will
open in a new page*
“The stress response of the body
is somewhat like an airplane readying for take-off. Virtually all
systems (eg, the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, the
lungs, the digestive system, the sensory organs, and brain) are
modified to meet the perceived danger."
Stress is an unavoidable consequence
of life. As Hans Selye (who coined the term as it is currently used)
noted, "Without stress, there would be no life". However,
just as distress can cause disease, it seems plausible that there
are good stresses that promote wellness. Stress is not always necessarily
harmful. Winning a race or election can be just stressful as losing,
or more so, but may trigger very different biological responses.
Increased stress results in increased productivity -- up to a point.
However, this level differs for each of us. It's very much like
the stress on a violin string. Not enough produces a dull, raspy
sound. Too much tension makes a shrill, annoying noise or snaps
the string. However, just the right degree can create a magnificent
tone. Similarly, we all need to find the proper level of stress
that allows us to perform optimally and make melodious music as
we go through life.
External and Internal Stressors
People can experience either external
or internal stressors.
External stressors include adverse
physical conditions (such as pain or hot or cold temperatures) or
stressful psychological environments (such as poor working conditions
or abusive relationships). Humans, like animals, can experience
Internal stressors can also be physical
(infections, inflammation) or psychological. An example of an internal
psychological stressor is intense worry about a harmful event that
may or may not occur. As far as anyone can tell, internal psychological
stressors are rare or absent in most animals except humans.
Acute or Chronic Stress
Stressors can also be defined as short-term
(acute) or long-term (chronic).
Acute Stress. Acute stress is the reaction
to an immediate threat, commonly known as the fight or flight response.
The threat can be any situation that is experienced, even subconsciously
or falsely, as a danger.
Common acute stressors include:
- infection, and
- imagining a threat or remembering
a dangerous event.
Under most circumstances, once the
acute threat has passed, the response becomes inactivated and levels
of stress hormones return to normal, a condition called the relaxation
Frequently, however, modern life poses
on-going stressful situations that are not short-lived and the urge
to act (to fight or to flee) must be suppressed. Stress, then, becomes
Common chronic stressors include:
- on-going highly pressured work,
- long-term relationship problems,
- loneliness, and
- persistent financial worries.
WHAT IS THE
EFFECT OF ACUTE STRESS?
The best way to envision the effect
of acute stress is to imagine oneself in a primitive situation,
such as being chased by a bear.
The Brain's Response to Acute
In response to seeing the bear, a part
of the brain called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system
Release of Steroid Hormones. The HPA
systems trigger the production and release of steroid hormones (
glucocorticoids), including the primary stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is very important in marshaling systems throughout the
body (including the heart, lungs, circulation, metabolism, immune
systems, and skin) to deal quickly with the bear.
Release of Catecholamines. The HPA
system also releases certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers)
called catecholamine, particularly those known as known as dopamine,
norepinephrine, and epinephrine (also called adrenaline).
Catecholamine activates an area inside
the brain called the amygdala, which apparently triggers an emotional
response to a stressful event. (In the case of the bear, this emotion
is most likely fear.)
Neurotransmitters then signal the hippocampus (a nearby area in
the brain) to store the emotionally loaded experience in long-term
memory. In primitive times, this combination of responses would
have been essential for survival, when long-lasting memories of
dangerous stimuli (ie, the large bear) would be critical for avoiding
such threats in the future.
During a stressful event, catecholamine also suppresses activity
in areas at the front of the brain concerned with short-term memory,
concentration, inhibition, and rational thought. This sequence of
mental events allows a person to react quickly to the bear, either
to fight or to flee from it. (It also hinders the ability to handle
complex social or intellectual tasks and behaviors.)
Response by the Heart, Lungs,
and Circulation to Acute Stress
- As the bear comes closer, the heart
rate and blood pressure increase instantaneously.
- Breathing becomes rapid and the
lungs take in more oxygen.
- Blood flow may actually increase
300% to 400%, priming the muscles, lungs, and brain for added
- The spleen discharges red and white
blood cells, allowing the blood to transport more oxygen.
The Immune System's Response
to Acute Stress
The effect on the immune system from
confrontation with the bear is similar to marshaling a defensive
line of soldiers to potentially critical areas.
- The steroid hormones dampen parts
of the immune system, so that infection fighters (including important
white blood cells) or other immune molecules can be redistributed.
- These immune-boosting troops are
sent to the body's front lines where injury or infection is most
likely, such as the skin, the bone marrow, and the lymph nodes.
The Acute Response in the
Mouth and Throat
As the bear gets closer, fluids are
diverted from nonessential locations, including the mouth. This
causes dryness and difficulty in talking. In addition, stress can
cause spasms of the throat muscles, making it difficult to swallow.
The Skin's Response to Acute
The stress effect diverts blood flow
away from the skin to support the heart and muscle tissues. (This
also reduces blood loss in the event that the bear catches up.)
The physical effect is a cool, clammy, sweaty skin. The scalp also
tightens so that the hair seems to stand up.
Metabolic Response to Acute
Stress shuts down digestive activity,
a nonessential body function during short-term periods of physical
exertion or crisis.
The Relaxation Response: the
Resolution of Acute Stress
Once the threat has passed and the
effect has not been harmful (ie, the bear has not eaten or seriously
wounded the human), the stress hormones return to normal. This is
known as the relaxation response. In turn, the body's systems also
WHAT ARE THE NEGATIVE
EFFECTS OF STRESS?
In prehistoric times, the physical
changes in response to stress were an essential adaptation for meeting
natural threats. Even in the modern world, the stress response can
be an asset for raising levels of performance during critical events
such as a sports activity, an important meeting, or in situations
of actual danger or crisis. If stress becomes persistent and low-level,
however, all parts of the body's stress apparatus (the brain, heart,
lungs, vessels, and muscles) become chronically over- or under-activated.
This may produce physical or psychological damage over time. Acute
stress can also be harmful in certain situations.
Stress-related conditions that are
most likely to produce negative physical effects include:
- An accumulation of persistent stressful
situations, particularly those that a person cannot easily control
(for example, high-pressured work plus an unhappy relationship).
- Persistent stress following a severe
acute response to a traumatic event (such as an automobile accident).
- An inefficient or insufficient
- Acute stress in people with serious
illness, such as heart disease.
Psychological Effects of Stress
Studies suggest that the inability
to adapt to stress is associated with the onset of depression or
anxiety. In one study, two-thirds of subjects who experienced a
stressful situation had nearly six times the risk of developing
depression within that month. Some evidence suggests that repeated
release of stress hormone produces hyperactivity in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal
axis and disrupts normal levels of serotonin, the nerve chemical
that is critical for feelings of well-being. Certainly, on a more
obvious level, stress diminishes the quality of life by reducing
feelings of pleasure and accomplishment, and relationships are often
Mental stress is as major a trigger
for angina as physical stress. Incidents of acute stress have been
associated with a higher risk for serious cardiac events, such as
heart rhythm abnormalities and heart attacks, and even death from
such events in people with heart disease.
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous
system (the automatic part of the nervous system that affects many
organs, including the heart). Such actions and others may negatively
affect the heart in several ways:
- Sudden stress increases the pumping
action and rate of the heart and causes the arteries to constrict,
thereby posing a risk for blocking blood flow to the heart.
- Emotional effects of stress alter
the heart rhythms and pose a risk for serious arrhythmias in people
with existing heart rhythm disturbances.
- Stress causes blood to become stickier
(possibly in preparation of potential injury), increasing the
likelihood of an artery-clogging blood clot.
- Stress may signal the body to release
fat into the bloodstream, raising blood-cholesterol levels, at
- In women, chronic stress may reduce
estrogen levels, which are important for cardiac health.
- Stressful events may cause men
and women who have relatively low levels of the neurotransmitter
serotonin (and therefore a higher risk for depression or anger)
to produce more of certain immune system proteins (called cytokines),
which in high amounts cause inflammation and damage to cells,
including possibly heart cells.
- Recent evidence confirms the association
between stress and hypertension (high blood pressure). People
who regularly experience sudden increases in blood pressure caused
by mental stress may, over time, develop injuries in the inner
lining of their blood vessels. In one 20-year study, for example,
men who periodically measured highest on the stress scale were
twice as likely to have high blood pressure as those with normal
stress. The effects of stress on blood pressure in women were
- More research is needed to confirm
the actual harm of stress on the heart. For example, one study
of people who work under demanding conditions suggested that heart
disease, including high blood pressure, attributed to work stress
may simply be due to the way people cope with the stress. People
who are trying to deal with stress often resort to unhealthy habits
including high-fat and high-salt diets, tobacco use, alcohol abuse,
and a sedentary lifestyle. In one study, men were more apt to
use alcohol or eat less healthily in response to stress, while
women tended to have healthier ways of coping.
One survey revealed that men who had
a more intense response to stressful situations, such as waiting
in line or problems at work, were more likely to have strokes than
those who did not report such distress. In some people prolonged
or frequent mental stress causes an exaggerated increase in blood
pressure. In fact, a 2001 study has linked for the first time a
higher risk for stroke in adult Caucasian men and elevated blood
pressure during times of stress.
Susceptibility to Infections
Chronic stress appears to blunt the
immune response and increase the risk for infections and may even
impair a person's response to immunizations. A number of studies
have shown that subjects under chronic stress have low white blood
cell counts and are vulnerable to colds. And once any person catches
a cold or flu, stress can exacerbate symptoms. People who harbor
herpes or HIV viruses may be more susceptible to viral activation
following exposure to stress. Even more serious, some research has
found that HIV-infected men with high stress levels progress more
rapidly to AIDS when compared to those with lower stress levels.
(In some studies, stressful events most linked with a higher incidence
of infections were interpersonal conflicts, such as those at work
or in a marriage.)
The contradictory effects of stress
on the immune system can have mixed effects on autoimmune diseases
(which are those that are caused by inflammation and damage from
immune attacks on the body). For example, eczema, lupus, and rheumatoid
arthritis may demonstrate changes ranging from improvement to deterioration
in response to stress. A 2001 study reported that short-term stress
appears to have no negative effect on multiple sclerosis, but chronic
stress is a major risk factor for flare-ups.
Current evidence does not support the
idea that stress causes cancer. Nevertheless, some animal studies
suggest that lack of control over stress (not simply stress itself)
had negative effects on immune function and contributed to tumor
growth. And, two small studies on melanoma and breast cancer patients
reported improved survival with therapies that offered emotional
support. Other research has not detected similar survival benefits,
but support groups still have great value in reducing stress in
patients with terminal cancer.
The brain and the intestine are strongly
related and mediated by many of the same hormones and nervous system.
(Indeed, some research suggests that the gut itself has features
of a primitive brain.) It is not surprising then that prolonged
stress can disrupt the digestive system, irritating the large intestine
and causing diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and bloating. Excessive
production of digestive acids in the stomach may cause a painful
Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome (or spastic colon) is strongly related
to stress. With this condition, the large intestine becomes irritated,
and its muscular contractions are spastic rather than smooth and
wave like. The abdomen is bloated and the patient experiences cramping
and alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea. Sleep disturbances
due to stress can further exacerbate irritable bowel syndrome.
Peptic Ulcers. It is now well
established that most peptic ulcers are either caused by the H.
pylori bacteria or by the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
(NSAID) medications (such as aspirin and ibuprofen). Nevertheless,
studies still suggest that stress may predispose someone to ulcers
or sustain existing ulcers. Some experts, in fact, estimate that
social and psychological factors play some contributing role in
30% to 60% of peptic ulcer cases, whether they are caused by H.
pylori or NSAIDs. In any case, some experts believe that the anecdotal
relationship between stress and ulcers is so strong that attention
to psychological factors is still warranted.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Although stress is not a cause of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's
disease or ulcerative colitis), there are reports of an association
between stress and symptom flare-ups. One study, for example, found
that while short term (past month) stress did not significantly
exacerbate ulcerative colitis symptoms, long term perceived stress
tripled the rate of flare-ups compared to patients who did not report
feelings of stress.
Stress can have varying effects on
eating problems and weight.
Weight Gain. Often stress
is related to weight gain and obesity. Many people develop cravings
for salt, fat, and sugar to counteract tension and, thus, gain weight.
Weight gain can occur even with a healthy diet, however, in some
people exposed to stress. And the weight gained is often abdominal
fat, a predictor of diabetes and heart problems. In a 2000 study,
lean women who gained weight in response to stress tended to be
less able to adapt to and manage stressful conditions. The release
of cortisol, a major stress hormone, appears to promote abdominal
fat and may be the primary connection between stress and weight
gain in such people.
Weight Loss. Some people suffer
a loss of appetite and lose weight. In rare cases, stress may trigger
hyperactivity of the thyroid gland, stimulating appetite but causing
the body to burn up calories at a faster than normal rate.
Eating Disorders . Anorexia
nervosa and bulimia nervosa are eating disorders that are highly
associated with adjustment problems in response to stress and emotional
Chronic stress has been associated
with the development of insulin-resistance, a condition in which
the body is unable to use insulin effectively to regulate glucose
(blood sugar). Insulin-resistance is a primary factor in diabetes.
Stress can also exacerbate existing diabetes by impairing the patient's
ability to manage the disease effectively.
Researchers are attempting to find
the relationship between pain and emotion, but the area is complicated
by many factors, including effects of personality types, fear of
pain, and stress itself.
Muscular and Joint Pain. Chronic
pain caused by arthritis and other conditions may be intensified
by stress. (According to a study on patients with rheumatoid arthritis,
however, stress management techniques do not appear to have much
effect on arthritic pain.) Psychological distress also plays a significant
role in the severity of back pain. Some studies have clearly associated
job dissatisfaction and depression to back problems, although it
is still unclear if stress is a direct cause of the back pain.
Headaches. Tension-type headache
episodes are highly associated with stress and stressful events.
(Sometimes the headache doesn't even start until long after a stressful
event is over.) Some research suggests that tension-type headache
sufferers may actually have some biological predisposition for translating
stress into muscle contraction. Among the wide range of possible
migraine triggers is emotional stress (although the headaches often
erupt after the stress has eased). One study suggested that women
with migraines tend to have personalities that over-respond to stressful
The tensions of unresolved stress frequently
cause insomnia, generally keeping the stressed person awake or causing
awakening in the middle of the night or early morning.
Sexual and Reproductive Dysfunction
Sexual Function. Stress can
lead to diminished sexual desire and an inability to achieve orgasm
in women. Stress response can also cause temporary impotence in
men. Part of the stress response involves the release of brain chemicals
that constrict the smooth muscles of the penis and its arteries.
This constriction reduces the blood flow into and increases the
blood flow out of the penis, which can prevent erection.
Premenstrual Syndrome. Some
studies indicate that the stress response in women with premenstrual
syndrome may be more intense than in those without the syndrome.
Fertility. Stress may even
affect fertility. Stress hormones have an impact on the hypothalamus
gland, which produces reproductive hormones. Severely elevated cortisol
levels can even shut down menstruation. One interesting small study
reported a significantly higher incidence of pregnancy loss in women
who experienced both high stress and prolonged menstrual cycles.
Another reported that women with stressful jobs had shorter periods
than women with low-stress jobs.
Effects on Pregnancy. Old
wives' tales about a pregnant woman's emotions affecting her baby
may have some credence. Maternal stress during pregnancy has been
linked to a 50% higher risk for miscarriage. It is also associated
with lower birth weights and increased incidence of premature births,
both of which are risk factors for infant mortality. One study suggested
that stress experienced by expectant mothers can even influence
the way in which the baby's brain and nervous system will react
to stressful events. Stress may cause physiologic alterations, such
as increased adrenal hormone levels or resistance in the arteries,
that may interfere with normal blood flow to the placenta.
Memory, Concentration, and
Stress has significant effects on the
brain, particularly on memory. The typical victim of severe stress
suffers loss of concentration at work and at home and may become
inefficient and accident-prone. In children, the physiologic responses
to stress can clearly inhibit learning. Although some memory loss
occurs with age, stress may play an even more important role than
simple aging in this process. In one study older people with low
stress hormone levels tested as well as younger people in cognitive
tests: those with higher stress levels tested between 20% and 50%
Effect of Acute Stress on Memory. Studies
indicate that the immediate effect of acute stress impairs short-term
memory, particularly verbal memory. In one interesting 2000 study,
subjects took pills containing either cortisone (a stress hormone)
or a placebo (a dummy pill). Those taking the cortisone performed
significantly worse on memorization tests than those taking the
placebo pill did. In an earlier study, when individuals were subjected
to four days of stress, verbal memory was also impaired. Fortunately,
in such cases, memory is restored after a period of relaxation.
Effect of Chronic Stress on Memory.
Studies have strongly associated prolonged exposure to cortisol
(the major stress hormone) to shrinkage in the hippocampus, the
center of memory. For example, two studies reported that groups
who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (Vietnam veterans
and women who suffered from sexual abuse) displayed up to 8% shrinkage
in the hippocampus. It is not yet known if this shrinkage is reversible.
Allergies. Research suggests
that stress, not indoor pollutants, may actually be a cause of the
so-called sick-building syndrome, which produces allergy-like symptoms,
such as eczema, headaches, asthma, and sinus problems, in office
Skin Disorders. Stress plays
a role in exacerbating a number of skin conditions, including hives,
psoriasis, acne, rosacea, and eczema. Unexplained itching may also
be caused by stress.
Unexplained Hair Loss (Alopecia
Areata). Alopecia areata is hair loss that occurs in localized
(or discrete) patches. The cause is unknown but stress is suspected
as a player in this condition. For example, hair loss often occurs
during periods of intense stress, such as mourning.
Teeth and Gums. Stress has
now been implicated in increasing the risk for periodontal disease,
which is disease in the gums that can cause tooth loss.
Self-Medication with Unhealthy
People under chronic stress frequently
seek relief through drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, abnormal
eating patterns, or passive activities, such as watching television.
The damage these self-destructive habits cause under ordinary circumstances
is compounded by the physiologic effects of stress itself. And the
cycle is self-perpetuating; a sedentary routine, an unhealthy diet,
alcohol abuse, and smoking promote heart disease, interfere with
sleep patterns, and lead to increased rather than reduced tension
levels. Drinking four or five cups of coffee, for example, can cause
changes in blood pressure and stress hormone levels similar to those
produced by chronic stress. Animal fats, simple sugars, and salt
are known contributors to health problems.
WHO IS AT RISK
FOR CHRONIC STRESS OR STRESS-RELATED DISEASES?
General Factors that Increase
At some point in their lives virtually
everyone will experience stressful events or situations that overwhelm
their natural coping mechanisms. In one poll, 89% of respondents
indicated that they had experienced serious stress in their lives.
Many factors influence susceptibility to stress.
Conditions that Influence the
Effects of Stress.
People respond to stress differently
depending on different factors:
- Early nurturing. (Abusive behavior
towards children may cause long-term abnormalities in the hypothalamus-pituitary
system, which regulates stress.)
- Personality traits. Certain people
have personality traits that cause them to over-respond to stressful
- Genetic factors. Some people have
genetic factors that affect stress, such as having more or less
efficient relaxation response. One 2001 study found a genetic
abnormality in serotonin regulation that was associated with a
heightened reactivity of the heart rates and blood pressure in
response to stress. (Serotonin is a brain chemical involved with
feelings of well being.)
- Immune Regulated Diseases. Certain
diseases that are associated with immune abnormalities (such as
rheumatoid arthritis or eczema) may actual impair a response to
- The Length and Quality of Stressors.
Naturally the longer the duration and more intense the stressors,
the more harmful the effects.
- Individuals at Higher Risk. Studies
indicate that the following people are more vulnerable to the
effects of stress than others:
- Younger adults. No one is immune
to stress, however, and it may simply go unnoticed in the
very young and old.
Women in general. (Women, in fact, may be at higher risk than
men are from stress-related chest pain, although men's hearts
may be more vulnerable to adverse effects from long-term stress,
such as from their jobs.)
- Working mothers. (Working mothers,
regardless of whether they are married or single, face higher
stress levels and possibly adverse health effects, most likely
because they bear a greater and more diffuse work load than
men or other women. This has been observed in women in the
US and in Europe. Such stress may also have a domino and harmful
effect on their children.)
- Less educated individuals.
- Divorced or widowed individuals.
(A number of studies indicate that unmarried people generally
do not live as long as their married contemporaries.)
- The unemployed.
- Isolated individuals.
- People who are targets of racial
or sexual discrimination.
- Those without health insurance.
- People who live in cities.
Effects in Childhood
Animal studies report that rats that
have been exposed to maternal grooming (ie, positive physical affection
by the mother) have lower stress hormone levels in adulthood. Depressed
or aggressive mothers are particularly powerful sources of stress
in children, even more important than poverty or overcrowding. Children
are frequent victims of stress because they are often unable to
communicate their feelings accurately or their responses to events
over which they have no control.
- Adolescent boys and girls experience
equal amounts of stress, but the source and effects may differ.
- Girls tend to become stressed from
interpersonal situations, and stress is more likely to lead to
depression in girls than in boys.
- For boys, one study suggested events
such as changing schools or poor grades are the most important
sources of stress. Another indicated, however, that the probability
of childhood behavioral difficulties in a boy is increased with
the number and type of stressors encountered in the home.
Stress in the Elderly
As people age, the ability to achieve
a relaxation response after a stressful event becomes more difficult.
Aging may simply wear out the systems in the brain that respond
to stress, so that they become inefficient. The elderly, too, are
very often exposed to major stressors such as medical problems,
the loss of a spouse and friends, a change in a living situation,
and financial worries.
Caregivers of Family Members. Studies
show that caregivers of physically or mentally disabled family members
are at risk for chronic stress. Spouses caring for a disabled partner
are particularly vulnerable to a range of stress-related health
threats including influenza, depression, heart disease, and even
poorer survival rates. Caring for a spouse with even minor disabilities
can induce severe stress. (Intervention programs that are aimed
at helping the caregiver approach the situation positively can be
very helpful at reducing stress and helping the caregiver maintain
a positive attitude.) Wives experience significantly greater stress
from caregiving than husbands, and, according to a 2000 study, tend
to feel more negative about their husbands than caregiving husbands
feel about their wives.
Specific risk factors that put caregivers
at higher risk for severe stress or stress-related illnesses include
- Having a low income.
- Being African American. African
Americans tend to be in poorer physical health than Caucasians
and so face greater stress as caregivers to their spouses than
their Caucasian counterparts.)
- Living alone with the patient.
- Helping a highly dependent patient.
- Having a difficult relationship
with the patient.
- Health Professional Caregivers.
Caregiving among the health professionals is also a high risk
factor for stress. One 2000 study, for example, found that registered
nurses with low job control, high job demands, and low work-related
social support experienced very dramatic health declines, both
physically and emotionally.
People who are less emotionally stable
or have high anxiety levels tend to experience specific events as
more stressful than others. Some experts describe an exaggerated
negative response to stress as "catastrophizing" the event
(turning it into a catastrophe). An overly angry or hostile response
to stressful situations may be dangerous to the heart, but studies
Studies in 1998 and 2000 have reported
an association among women between anger, irritability, and hostility
and narrowing of the arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease.
The 1998 study reported that being self conscious in public and
suppressing anger were also associated with this risk.
A 1999 study further reported a link
in older women between long term anger and the development of abnormal
obesity (the so-called apple shape), an important risk factor for
According to a 2000 study on Army
personnel, depression, anxiety, hostility, and stress did not appear
to have any effect on atherosclerosis, the primary cause of coronary
artery disease. And, another 2000 study suggested that, although
anger itself posed no higher risk to the heart, outwardly expressed
anger plus low social supports did appear to predict progression
of heart disease. [For more information see the Well-Connected Report
Lack of Social Network
The lack of an established network
of family and friends predisposes one to stress disorders and stress-related
health problems, including heart disease and infections. And, a
2000 study reported that older people who maintain active relationships
with their adult children are buffered against the adverse health
effects of chronic stress-inducing situations, such as low income
or lower social class. One study suggested this may be because people
who live alone are unable to discuss negative feelings and so relieve
Work Risk Factors
According to one survey, 40% of American
workers describe their jobs as very stressful. Job-related stress
is particularly likely to become chronic because it is such a large
part of daily life. And, stress in turn reduces a worker's effectiveness
by impairing concentration, causing sleeplessness, and increasing
the risk for illness, back problems, accidents, and lost time. Work
stress can lead to harassment or even violence while on the job.
At its most extreme, stress that places such a burden on the heart
and circulation may be fatal. The Japanese even have a word for
sudden death due to overwork, karoushi. In fact, a number of studies
are now suggesting that job-related stress is as great a threat
to health as smoking or not exercising.
Among the intense stressors at work
are the following:
- Having no participation in decisions
that affect one's responsibilities.
- Unrelenting and unreasonable demands
- Lack of effective communication
and conflict-resolution methods among workers and employers.
- Lack of job security.
- Long hours.
- Excessive time spent away from
home and family.
- Office politics and conflicts between
- Wages not commensurate with levels
- An Absent or Inadequate Relaxation
In some people, stress hormones remain
elevated instead of returning to normal levels. This may occur in
highly competitive athletes or people with a history of depression.
In a 1999 study scientists reported
the discovery of a small protein in the brain (orphanin FQ/nociceptin)
that plays an important role in the stress response. Animals with
a genetic deficiency in this protein are unable to manage stress
response and exhibit over-anxious behavior in response to new situations.
Future research may reveal similar findings in humans.
WHAT OTHER CONDITIONS
HAVE THE SAME SYMPTOMS AS STRESS?
The physical symptoms of anxiety disorders
mirror many of those of stress, including a fast heart rate; rapid,
shallow breathing; and increased muscle tension. Anxiety is an emotional
disorder, however, and is characterized by feelings of apprehension,
uncertainty, fear, or panic. Unlike stress, the triggers for anxiety
are not necessarily or even usually associated with specific stressful
or threatening conditions. Some individuals with anxiety disorders
have numerous physical complaints, such as headaches, gastrointestinal
disturbances, dizziness, and chest pain. Severe cases of anxiety
disorders are debilitating, and interfere with career, family, and
Depression can be a disabling condition,
and, like anxiety disorders, may result from untreated chronic stress.
Depression also mimics some of the symptoms of stress, including
changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and concentration. Serious
depression, however, is distinguished from stress by feelings of
sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in life, and, sometimes,
thoughts of suicide. Acute depression is also accompanied by significant
changes in the patient's functioning. Professional therapy may be
needed in order to determine if depression is caused by stress or
if it is the primary problem.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
is a reaction to a very traumatic event: it is actually classified
as an anxiety disorder. The event that precipitates PTSD is usually
outside the norm of human experience, such as intense combat or
sexual assault. The patient struggles to forget the traumatic event
and frequently develops emotional numbness and event-related amnesia.
Often, however, there is a mental flashback, and the patient re-experiences
the painful circumstance in the form of intrusive dreams and disturbing
thoughts and memories, which resemble or recall the trauma. Other
symptoms may include lack of pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities,
hopelessness, irritability, mood swings, sleep problems, inability
to concentrate, and an excessive startle-response to noise.
WHAT ARE THE
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR REDUCING STRESS?
Perhaps the best general approach for
treating stress can be found in the elegant passage by Reinhold
Niebuhr, "Grant me the courage to change the things I can change,
the serenity to accept the things I can't change, and the wisdom
to know the difference." The process of learning to control
stress is life-long, and will not only contribute to better health,
but a greater ability to succeed in one's own agenda.
STEPS CAN I TAKE TO REDUCE AND EVEN ELIMINATE STRESS IN MY LIFE?
Here are some Stress relieving herbs,
nutrients and actions you can use to help your body relax:
Plants and Herbs
Chamomile - Used for hundreds of years
and a calming agent for children, it also works well for adults.
Its apple scent fills the room when you brew a cup and sweetened
with honey, it makes you want to take a deep breath, kick your shoes
off and sigh.
Sage - One of the most widely used
herbs by Native Americans, its use as a calmant is little known.
But Sage tea will boost the immune system while healing the nerves.
Brew tea using 1 teaspoon of sage per cup of boiling water.
Black elder - is known to induce to
body to sweat, Sweating is a way for the body to release toxins,
thus removing stress from the body. The flowers and the berries
are both used in various ways to promote natural healing within
the body. The flowers of the elder berry contain large portions
of organic acids and calcium. The berries contain vitamin B1 and
vitamin C, along with essential oils.
Peppermint has menthol, as it's active
ingredient. Menthol helps ease diarrhea, headaches and colic in
babies. Peppermint also contains B vitamins, calcium, and potassium.
Peppermint essential oil menthol is known to promote digestion and
help prevent gallstones. It soothes the stomach lining relieving
stomach cramps. The B vitamins in menthol help improve concentration
and performance in the brain and nerves.
The combination of Elderflower and
Peppermint tea has been used for centuries to heal pneumonia. This
Stinging nettle tea, the natural healer
- Nettle Tea has been used through history as a detoxifier for the
blood system, removing unwanted impurities. It also helps with lowering
blood sugar and improving digestion and relieving pain. People with
arthritis are encouraged to use this plant directly on aching joints;
it will stimulate the blood, which reduces pain.
Jasmine essential oil has a sweet and
floral aroma. It has many healing properties than are very useful
it is used as an anti-inflammatory agent, as an antiseptic and as
a sedative. It may be blended with other herbs such as bergamot,
Clary sage, frankincense, geranium, lime, lemon balm, rose, rosewood
and sandalwood. When blended with these herbs its provides many
different ways to promote the body’s natural way of healing.
known as the purple coneflower, is native to the prairies of the
Western United States. But currently 2 of the 3 species has become
more scarce in the wild and now are cultivated for the most part.
Echinacea is from the aster family and the roots and above ground
parts are harvested while the plant is in flower. Today consumers
use echinacea mainly for preventing and treating colds and to help
in the healing of infections. It gives the white blood cells and
immune system cells that little extra boost they need in helping
to fight off colds and flu viruses. In addition to stimulating the
immune system it helps accelerate healing of infections that already
the green “blood” of plant life is made by plants through
a chemical process called photosynthesis. And amazingly, it essentially
has the same effects in the body as iron, so it builds our own blood
naturally. Catabolic and anabolic at the same time, liquid chlorophyll
is a powerful detoxifier and tonic. It cleanses the blood and builds
red blood cells while doing it. Because liquid chlorophyll’s
composition contains calcium, it is highly useful for people as
well as animals with arthritis, bone diseases, and hip dysplasia.
Chlorophyll heals chronic conditions both internally and externally,
and stops the growth and development of toxic bacteria. Chlorophyll
removes toxins from the bones, blood tissues, and intestines. And
because chlorophyll helps to thicken and strengthen the walls of
the cells, it is also a nutritional aid for the immune system. Liquid
chlorophyll counteracts toxins, the result is that the body heal
faster. It also works in purifying the liver, eliminates old toxic
material, and deodorizes the bowels and the entire body. In the
colon, liquid chlorophyll helps keep the colon healthy by destroying
disease causing bacteria. It works well in eliminating body odors,
abscesses, and other skin sores in people as well as animals. In
fact it’s a great help for any digestive problems, constipation,
gum eucalyptus can be found in Australia, Spain, Brazil, Russia,
China and California. This tall tree is very attractive with its
long leaves and white flowers. Blue gum eucalyptus oil is steam-distilled
from the leaves and bark of the tree. It has a sharp sweet aroma
that helps clear the head. Blue gum eucalyptus oil is used as an
antiseptic and a pain reliever. Herbalists prescribe blue gum eucalyptus
with other essential oils such as lavender, lemon, juniper, and
bergamot. Blue gum eucalyptus is a popular antiseptic; the Australian
Aborigines use the leaves for healing wounds, fighting infections
and help relieve muscle aches and pains. It is used in India to
help rid fevers and control contagious diseases. Many of the United
States pharmaceutical companies use this essential oil in vapor
rubs and many other chest and cold products. This essential oil
is also useful for insect bites, burns, wounds, and blisters. It
is also an insect repellent, just place 2-tablespoon of blue gum
eucalyptus oil and bergamot or lavender in the top of a candle,
and use outside. Herbalists suggest blue gum eucalyptus candles
for relieving stress-related illnesses. This candle is to be burned
to help strengthen the nervous system and aid in concentration.
Kava is a ceremonial relaxant used traditionaly by men indigenous
to the Pacific islands. Today it is used by those in the West, to
alleviate stress, and to promote a sense of well being. Kava Kava,
or Kava for short, exerts its influence over its subjects by means
of its active constituents, kavalactones. Kavalactones, bond to
the same part of the brain as valium. This is known as the GABAminergic
receptor site. However, unlike valium, Kava does not seem to "dumb
down" the user. In fact, in one study, verbal recall (the intellect
you use when you're trying to remember someone's name) is shown
to improve under the influence of Kava. It seems, that Kava is more
like another GABA acting substance, this substance being Piracetam,
which has been shown to boost some aspects of intelligence. Kava
Kava has been shown to increase sensitivity to light and sound,
making it especially useful to musicians and artists who seek to
polish their artistry. I have personally experimented with Kava
Kava use, as a study aid to musical divisions of beat. I have found
it very useful in this type of learning as it seems to sedate the
body, without the alcohol-like impairment of the mental faculties.
I have yet to personally employ it in creative endeavors, though
I expect that it will enhance my functioning.
Dill has been a prized herb throughout
history. During ancient times they would even accept if for payment
of other items. Dill is used to help alleviate hiccups, stomach
and intestinal problems, mild insomnia; it helps promote wellness
of the liver and gallbladder. The leaves and seeds of dill contain
vitamin C, folic acid, beta-carotene and potassium. These help calm
stomachs, kill stomach bacteria, and soothe colic in infants. Dill
seeds can also be used as breath fresheners. Just chew on a few
between meals, it kills bacteria in the mouth which leaves fresher
essential oil has been used through the ages, it was thought by
the Egyptian's to provide immorality. The Egyptians also believed
in was helpful in raising a man's sperm count. But in today's society
it is used in alleviating stomachaches and improving digestion.
It is also used to reduce stress where people can express their
thoughts. Coriander's essential oil contains linalool, geranial,
vitamin C, and Potassium all these aid in the circulatory system,
digestive system and is good for the skin. Coriander is also good
for migraine headaches, by drinking coriander tea a couple of times
per day. To prepare coriander tea, bring a cup of water to a boil
add 1/4 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds, let mixture set for ten
minutes. Strain and then add 2 teaspoons sugar.
Skullcap, scutellaria lateriflora,
was named for its hooded, helmet-like, pink or blue flowers. Skullcap
is rich in scuttelarian. This flavonoid has sedative and antispasmodic
properties, and herbalists consider it one of the best and safest
sedatives of the plant world.
Rosemary is an herb that has silver-green
needle like leaves with pale blue or lilac flowers. Rosemary is
sought after for it purifying and stimulant characteristics. It
can be found worldwide but most of rosemary’s essential oils
are produced in Morocco, France and Spain. Rosemary essential is
extracted by steam distillation from the flowers and leaves. It
has a strong, clean mint aroma. It is used for its antidepressant,
antiseptic, digestive, stimulant and tonic properties. Rosemary
essential oil is often blended with Atlas cedarwood, geranium, ginger,
lemon balm, myrtle and sweet basil.
has a variety of health benefits besides adding it to cookies and
pies. It calms and helps lower blood pressure and soothes digestive
upset. Mixed with a neutral oil and used in a massage it eases joint
pain and inflammation. Nutmeg also provides fast relief for diarrhea
and toothaches. The therapeutic effects of nutmeg stimulates the
cardiovascular system, promotes concentration, acts as ab expectorant,
reduces joint inflammation and helps also with liver removing toxins.
Vetiver is a tall, dense, wild grass
with long narrow leaves and a strand of underground white, yellow
and brown roots. It is sought after for its calming, protective,
soothing and uplifting characteristics. It can be found in Java,
Haiti, Japan, Indonesia and South India. Vetiver is used for its
antiseptic, sedative, stimulant and tonic properties. Vetiver’s
essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from its roots.
Vetiver essential oil’s aroma has a smoky woody scent. It
is often blended with geranium, jasmine, lavender and rosewood.
Vetiver has been used throughout his in many different cultures
for many different reasons from its healing abilities to ceremonies.
In India and Sri Lanka it is known as the oil of tranquility.
Here is a list of Essential oils that
are used to calm the nerves and remove stress from the body:
- Sweet Myrtle
- Sweet Basil
- Sweet Marjoram
- Hawthorn flower
- Sweet Fennel
- Tea Tree oil
- Ginger oil
- Rose otto
- Clary Sage
A good Aromatherapist can make up a
combination of any of these tuned to your own body’s needs.
Vitamins and Minerals
To determine what vitamins and minerals
your body is imbalanced in, a hair
analysis is a wonderful window into your physical make-up to
see WHY you are exhibiting a stress response to things that happen
in your everyday life.
Stress can quickly deplete the body
of B vitamins, C, Zinc and more, so to put your body back into balance
would be the first step in eliminating stress.
Some stress relieving foods are:
Meditation, Massage, and Relaxation
Some alternate therapies that will
- Insight meditation
- Walking meditation
- Alexander Technique
- Creative visualization
- Flotation therapy
- Hot Epsom salts baths
Natural Remedies / Alternative
Some Alternative Healing Techniques
you may want to try:
- Magnetic therapy
- Holographic Repatterning
- Ear Candling
- Chelation Therapy
- Chinese Medicine
- Biomagnetic Therapy
- Alexander Technique
- Polarity Healing
- Music Therapy
The American Institute of Health
American College of Acupuncture
& Oriental Medicine archives
The Natural Way of Healing Stress,
Anxiety, and Depression by Natural Medicine Collective
Serenity Garden: 7 Radical Weeds
for Natural Stress Relief by Jillian Vannostrand, Christie V. Sarles,
Martha G. Copplestone
En Garden!: 7 Radical Weeds for
Life Support & Repair by Jillian Vannostrand, Christie V. Sarles
Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed,
Sacred Plant Medicine : explorations
in the practice of indigenous herbalism by Stephen Harrod Buhner,
Stephen Harrod Buhner
Spiritual Healing: A Patient's
Guide by EILEEN INGE HERZBERG
A Change for the Better by PATRICIA
Stress: A Friend for Life by JENNI