Chapter 2: Managing Stress
Chronic stress is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period of time in which an individual perceives he or she has little or no control. It involves an endocrine system response in which corticosteroids are released. While the immediate effects of stress hormones are beneficial in a particular short-term situation, long-term exposure to stress creates a high level of these hormones. This may lead to high blood pressure (and subsequently heart disease), damage to muscle tissue, inhibition of growth, suppression of the immune system, and damage to mental health.
Animals exposed to distressing events over which they have no control respond by releasing corticosteroids. The sympathetic branch of the nervous system is activated, also releasing epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Stress has a role in humans as a method of reacting to difficult and possibly dangerous situations. The “fight or flight” response when one perceives a threat helps the body exert energy to fight or run away to live another day. This response is noticeable when the adrenal glands release epinephrine, causing the blood vessels to constrict and heart rate to increase. In addition, cortisol is another hormone that is released under stress and its purpose is to raise the glucose level in the blood. Glucose is the main energy source for human cells and its increase during time of stress is for the purpose of having energy readily available for over active cells.
Chronic stress is also known to be associated with an accelerated loss of telomeres in most but not all studies.
Different types of stressors, the timing (duration) of the stressors, and personal characteristics all influence the response of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis to stressful situations.
Resilience in chronic stress is defined as the ability to deal and cope with stresses in a healthy manner.There are six categories of resources that affect an individual’s coping resources:
- Personality (Empathy/Sympathy, Commitment, Optimism)
- Ego-related traits (Self-esteem, Self-confidence, Self-control)
- Social Connectivity (Social network, Available support)
- Cultural Views (Religious beliefs, Moral beliefs)
- Behavioral Skills (Social Skills, Emotion management)
- Other (Socioeconomic status, General Health)
Symptoms of chronic stress can vary from anxiety, depression, social isolation, headache, abdominal pain or lack of sleep to back pain and difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms include panic attacks or a panic disorder. Chronic stress can increase an individual’s risk for psychiatric disorders and some physical disorders, especially cardiovascular diseases.