Stress: A Friend Or Foe?

Are you often tired? Do you have problems sleeping? Are you eating too much or too little? Are often angry or irritated? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you are most probably stressed out.

Stress has been always with us since the early days of human evolution. Stress is not necessarily a foe because it allows us to adapt to the various elements in the environment which are critical to our survival. When we learned to take our first few steps to walk, our young muscles were subjected to stress. Biological agents like chicken pox virus subject our bodies to stress, but overtime, our body positively responds by producing anti-bodies that are programmed to kill chicken pox virus. That is why once we contract chicken pox, we generally don’t get the disease a second time, except for very few people in the large population.

The amount of stress determines how positively or negatively our body can adapt. Normally, our body produces stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol at the first instance it senses threat. These hormones cause the heart to pump more blood by beating faster and the blood pressure to shoot up. They also have direct effects on our respiration by stimulating the respiratory tract to speed up breathing. In addition, these hormones increase blood sugar levels so that our body cells have a sufficient amount of fuel to use during times of emergency.

Chronic exposure to stress is harmful to our health. The process is insidious and the outcome can be death-forming. Studies have shown a strong link between frequent stress and diseases like mental illness, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Now here are few of the other reasons why you should do something if you think you are stressed out:

  • Weak immune system – As reported by the National Institute of Health, according to Dr. Esther M. Sternberg at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, it makes sense for the immune system to gear up and get ready to heal potential wounds. But chronic stress can cause the system to backfire. Research has shown that wounds in people under chronic stress heal more slowly. Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease, who are often under great stress, are more likely to get the flu or a cold as their immune system is very vulnerable.
  • Weight gain – Recent studies found a relationship between psychological stress and weight gain in the US. There seems to be a variation between male and female about how they respond to different types of stress. Financial problems, strained family relationship and the sense of limitation driven by life’s circumstances can take their toll on women. Men, on the other hand are not seemed so much affected by these types of stress. Job-related factors are more likely to be more stressful to men like the lack of authority to make decision at work and the difficulty in learning new skills in a new job as well as difficulty in performing different job duties. Regardless of the types of stress, however, both genders demonstrate eating more during times of stressful situation. On the other hand some people tend to lose weight when stress causes them to diminish their appetite.
  • Poor mental performance – Studies suggest that there is a link between high levels of stress hormones and poor memory, low concentration and problem-solving skills. Experts believe that when brain cells are constantly bombarded with high levels of stress signals, they tend to have little recovery time and eventually they start to shrink and cut connections to other brain cells.

The effects of stress are many and there is surmounting evidence that modern life has a lot to do with the stress-induced illnesses that account for the morbidity and mortality of this age. However, we all respond to stress differently, and how we respond to it depends whether we move towards the positive effects which make us stronger or towards the negative which lead us to more deleterious lifestyles like smoking and excessive drinking.


“Study Examines Effects of Stress on Weight Gain in US Population” Medical News Today (July 9, 2009).

“Stress Affects Both Body and Mind” NIH News in Health. (January 2007).

“Psychological Stress and Cancer: Questions and Answers”. National Cancer Institute, NIH.

Similar Posts