Stressing out about Stress

by Dans To

Short-term stress is useful in everyday life and actually beneficial to humans because it increases the immune system output. However, over an extended period of time, stress can be extremely detrimental to the body. Chronic stress, or long-term stress, is connected to the six major leading causes of death: cancer, lung illnesses, accidents, cirrhosis,  heart disease, and suicide.

The way anxiety affects the body is with a hormone called cortisol which diverts energy from non-essential functions of the body to where it is needed. With long-term exposure to cortisol in the body, the immune system will start to shut down, which means white blood cells are reduced. A lower amount of white blood cells increases the body’s susceptibility to diseases. Those with prolonged stress also tend to have more clogged arteries which increases the chances of having a heart attack. Chromosomes contain something called telomeres at the ends of each strand, and as people age,these telomeres get shorter until they run out. After telomeres run out, the cell will stop dividing, meaning longer telomeres are linked with longer lives. However, chronic stress is linked to the shortening of telomeres, directly shortening the span of life.

People with stress miss out on a normal circadian cycle, reducing their cognitive abilities and memory. Long-term stress is also linked to dramatically smaller brain cells with few connections between the neurons. When students pull an all-nighter to study for a test they are stressed out about, the stress will cause fewer connections between neurons which is also detrimental to memory. In addition, they will be missing sleep which shows why it is so hard to maintain a decent memory when pulling an all-nighter for a test.

So with all of the negative effects of long-term stress here are a couple ways to reduce it:

  1. Laughter: When people laugh, their oxygen intake is increased, which stimulates the release of endorphins, a chemical that interacts with opiate receptors in the brain to reduce a person’s perception of pain. People with high endorphin levels will experience less negative effects caused by stress.

  2. Be Social: Social interactions are associated with an increase in oxytocin, decreased cortisol, and a decrease in blood cholesterol levels. Lower cholesterol will decrease the chances of getting a heart attack.

  3. Chew gum: Mastication lowers cortisol levels and increases activity in the cerebral cortex which would raise relaxation levels.

  4. Go outside: Looking at natural scenery will decrease cortisol levels, heart rate, and blood pressure.

  5. Listen to Music: Music is uniquely linked to emotion and is especially effective when dealing with stress.

  6. Pets: People who own a pet have lower cortisol levels and higher oxytocin levels. Pet owners also tend to score lower on anxiety tests.

  7. Yoga: Lowers cortisol levels and greatly reduces stress in its practitioner; only 20 minutes every day can induce these effects.

  8. Meditation: 5 minutes will lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol.

  9. Fidgeting: Fidgeting has not only been proven to show increased attention but also lower stress levels too.

  10. Ditching the tech: Uninterrupted computer use is linked to high-stress levels, lost sleep, and even depression. Even just talking on a phone has been shown to increase blood pressure.