Stress is a blanket term that can mean many things. Technically, stress involves an individual’s physical and emotional reaction to pressure from his environment of from within himself. A job promotion is stressful because, although generally positive, it may make one feel that harder work is expected. Thus while stress is often thought to be negative, it may actually help in achieving gals as well as avoiding unpleasant situations. Stress gets its bad name because it may become an unavoidable part of life, and cause one to be constantly agitated. When it happens, it is possible to become overloaded and suffer physically or emotionally or both.
Some of the stress-related illnesses include peptic ulcers, migraine headaches, depression, ulcerative colitis, high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks. This doesn’t mean that stress is the direct or principal cause of these illnesses; rather, researchers believe that some people may inherit a biological predisposition to developing a particular disease. And ongoing stress in such a person’s life may increase the chances that, that illness will develop. Illness itself is a source of stress. In addition, continuous stress can weaken the body’s immune system may become less effective in battling infections. And some authorities suggest that chronic and excessive may contribute to the development and progression of cancer.
In times of stress the body secrets a cascade of brain chemicals and hormones, including adrenaline and hydrocortisone, that stimulate what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenaline increases the heart rate and rate of breathing, and prepares the body to fight an external threat of flee from it. Hydrocortisone helps it to maintain its readiness for dealing with stress. Thus when we hear bad news on the phone, our immediate reaction is one triggered by adrenaline, followed by an increased secretion of hydrocortisone.
The hormones that help us the cope with stress for a short period, however, can cause health problems if we are subjected to long-term stress. Constant stress causes the body to secrete adrenaline and hydrocortisone on a continuing basis, and in time their presence in the bloodstream may be erosive. Prolonged high levels of adrenaline, for example, force the heart and lungs to work overtime and keep blood pressure above normal. And constant high levels of hydrocortisone can increase the cholesterol level and cause the platelets in the blood to clot unnecessarily. In time, these changes may contribute to strokes or heart attacks. High levels of hydrocortisone may also lead to the development of stomach and duodenal ulcers. In addition, excess hydrocortisone can have a negative effect on the immune system. In fact, there exist a series of interactions between the brain and the immune system: cells from each use many of the same chemical messengers and receptors, suggesting a link through which stress might affect immune function and enhance vulnerability to illness.