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Stress and Health

Stress and Health

Question 1

It is true to say that stress can be a positive social determinant of health. The human body needs stress to a certain extent; however, one must try their level best to avoid letting it take control of them. Good stress entails the emotional challenge in which one feels in control and offers some sense of triumph (Hiriyappa, 2013). A moderate amount of such stress, improves memory, enhances heart function, and enables the body to acquire resistance to infections. Good stress, which is also known as eustress, is capable of enhancing a person’s resilience and performance (Aschbacher, O’Donovan, Wolkowitz, Dhabhar, Su, & Epel, 2013). Some groups of researchers believe that short-term bursts of stress are capable of strengthening the immune system and offering protection against some aging illnesses, such as Alzheimer, through ensuring that the brain cells are kept working at peak capacity. A little amount of stress can be beneficial in the sense that it helps one in achieving their personal goals and work (American Psychological Association, 2013). Small quantities of stress are normal and good, and they can coerce a person to action, move them into their peak performance zone, motivate and help them become more productive, and give them a sense of exhilaration or excitement.

When one perceives that an event, situation, or problem surpasses their resources or abilities, the body responds involuntarily with the flight or fight
response. Consequently, the heart pumps more blood; in addition, adrenaline and cortisol are released. As a result, this can give a burst of physical energy in the short run, which pushes a person to rise physically above the threat. Positive stress focuses one’s energy where it is needed, feels exciting, improves performance, motivates, and is superficial and within one’s coping capabilities. On the other hand, stress can really be helpful during surgery since according to a new research, people with moderate levels of stress have higher chances of survival than those without.

Due to the fact that stress normally represses the production of estrogen, a new study now suggests that stress can help in the prevention of breast cancer (Davis, 2009). Again, it has been proven that children born of mothers who experienced elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, at any stage in pregnancy are more developed than those whose mothers had lower levels of the same (Contrada & Baum, 2010).

Question 2

Stress can be a negative social determinant of health in very many ways. Numerous poignant and physical disarrays have been associated with stress. For instance, high levels of stress may cause depression, heart attacks, anxiety, hypertension, stroke, and immune system disorders that augment susceptibility to infectivity (Folkman, 2010). In addition, stress is responsible for a host of viral allied disorders that range from herpes to common colds, various cancers, in addition to autoimmune infections like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. On the other hand, stress can bear direct consequences on the skin, manifesting itself in the form of rashes, atopic dermatitis, goose bumps, and hives (Harrington, 2012). Additionally, the gastrointestinal system might also be negatively affected by stress, causing irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, and ulcerative colitis. Studies have also shown that stress can lead to degenerative neurological disarrays akin to Parkinson’s disease and restlessness. In actual sense, it is difficult to conjure up any syndrome where stress cannot play a maddening part or any element of the human body that is not impinged on by it in any way (Haviland, Morton, Oda, & Fraser, 2010).

Various body parts, including internal and external organs, are always affected by stress. The brain, for instance, is affected by stress in that the latter triggers cerebral and emotional predicaments such as irritability, sleeplessness, headaches, depression, personality changes, and anxiety (Han, Li, Sit, Chung, Jiao, & Ma, 2010). Muscles, on the other hand, are negatively influenced by high levels of stress, resulting in spasmodic pains in the shoulders and neck, lower back pains, musculoskeletal aches, nervous tics, and various inconsequential muscular jolts. Stress can also have a thorough bearing on the digestive tract, in which various ailments of the digestive system, such as ulcerative colitis, gastritis, duodenal, stomach ulcers, and an irritable colon can be aggravated (Juster, Perna, Marin, Sindi, & Lupien, 2012). In relation to the skin, some individuals act in response to stress with outbursts of skin hitches such as psoriasis and eczema.

High stress levels can also have dire consequences on the reproductive system in that they affect the reproductive organs by creating intermittent
vaginal contagions and menstrual
disorders in women, together with premature ejaculation as well as impotence in men (Lovejoy & Barsyte, 2011). The functioning of the lungs is also interfered with by stress since studies have proven that elevated levels of psychological or poignant stress negatively affect people suffering from asthmatic conditions. Other related illnesses and adverse health conditions associated with elevated levels of stress may include recurrent headaches, jaw pains or clenching, grinding of teeth, gritting, speech impediment or stammering, trembling of the lips, muscle spasms, ringing in the ears, frequent blushing, tremors, neck aches together with back pain, difficulty in swallowing, and having a dry mouth. In addition, negative stress can bring forth frequent colds, inexplicable or repeated allergy attacks, light-headedness, dizziness, cold or clammy hands and feet, excess belching and faintness, sweating, heartburn and severe stomach pain, flatulence, constipation, sudden attacks of panic, chest pains, intricacy in breathing, exhaling noisily, diarrhea, irritability, frequent urination, stumpy sexual drive, and poor concentration (Psych Central Staff, 2014).

Studies have shown that exposure to trauma and stress may have a direct impact on the immune system functioning of humans. Various scholars have hinted that heightened stress can immediately improve the immune system, while chronic stress is associated with immunosuppression. At the outset, the instant response to stress elevates and activates the immune system. Nevertheless, with persistent exposure to stress, there may be substantiation of spectacularly reduced immune system functioning, which makes one more vulnerable to diseases (D’Andrea, Sharma, Zelechoski, & Spinazzola, 2011). Correspondingly, autoimmune disturbance may bring forth the weakening of critical organ systems. A number of researchers have been examining the various mechanisms explaining how the immune system is affected by stress. In this regard, it has been proven that stress amplifies the peripheral lymphocytes, which incorporates cytotoxic T cells together with the natural killer cells, during their introduction to the stressor; consequently, the immune cells dwindle to less than baseline levels due to the stressor (Lotze & Thomson, 2010). For that reason, amid the chronic stress that is akin to what is experienced in PTSD, the immune system may have a dulled response to every new acute stressor (Benedek & Wynn, 2011). For instance, T cells do not instantaneously proliferate as a result of an immediate stressor when exposed to persistent stress (Lotze & Thomson, 2010). These outcomes signify strong prospective risk factors in the growth of ailments when stress sways inflammatory markers (Watters, Satia, da Costa, Boysen, Collins, Morrow, Milne, & Swenberg, 2009). Resultant diseases and conditions may include hypertension, cardiac mortality, and coronary heart disease (Griffin, 2014). Mast cells are capable of being triggered by acute stress and have a role in neuroinflammatory syndromes, which comprise migraines, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, urinary bladder interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (O’Donovan, Tomiyama, Lin, Puterman, Adler, Kemeny, Wolkowitz, Blackburn, & Epel, 2012).

In terms of psychological health consequences, stress is capable of causing excess worry, anxiety, guilt, nervousness, hostility, frequent and severe mood swings, disturbing dreams, insomnia, nightmares, intricacy in concentrating, recurrent crying spells together with racing thoughts and suicidal contemplations, absentmindedness, disorganization, mystification, and frequent utilization of over-the-counter medicines (Klinic Community Health Centre, 2010). In addition, elevated levels of distress may lead to a diminutive interest in appearance and promptness, disproportionate defensiveness or shiftiness, augmented anger, depression and frustration, sentiments of loneliness and triviality, overreaction to petty infuriation, nervous inclinations, fidgeting, feet tapping, and general reduction of work productivity. Various studies have indicated that negative stress may bring forth increased or reduced appetite, difficulty in learning new information and making decisions, feeling beleaguered, increased aggravation, petulance, enhanced chances of having minor accidents, compulsive behaviors, amplified drug use, smoking and alcohol intake, hasty or mumbled speech, and sometimes lies or pretexts to disguise poor work (Friedman, 2010). Consequently, constant weakness, tiredness and fatigue, social withdrawal or segregation, disproportionate gambling and impulse buying behavior, communication problems, and general weight loss may also occur when one is under stress (Klinic Community Health Centre, 2010). If these psychological effects persist for long periods or result from an impulsive significant change, they can bring about health predicaments such as headaches, stomach upset, insomnia, heart palpitations, eating disorders, and depression (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013).

It is a fact that some of the immediate health effects of negative stress may include pains and aches or butterflies in the stomach, muscle tension, constipation, nausea, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, chest pain or loss of sex drive, recurrent colds, elevated blood pressure, sweating, and shallow breathing (Goldberg, 2012). Elevated stress levels are capable of causing excessive hair loss together with some varieties of baldness. On the other hand, accumulated distress may be responsible for mouth ulcers and excessive dryness of the mouth cavity followed by cardiovascular infections and possible hypertension. Prominent levels of stress may be responsible for a wide range of cardiovascular illnesses (Rogers & Pilgrim, 2011). On top of the various studies examining how long-term and acute stress impinges on heart rate, there is wide-ranging support connecting acute stress to mutilations in other cardiovascular functioning indices. Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, for instance, gives forth to long-term alterations in systolic blood pressure, augmented risk for coronary incidents, and atrioventriciular defects (Mikosch, Hadrawa, Laubreiter, Brandl, Jurgen, Stettner, & Grimm, 2010). In addition, stress is allied to unremitting high levels of blood pressure, which sequentially leads to atherosclerotic plaque. Research has also revealed that severe stress is likely to encourage activation of cardiac mast cells and bump up serum levels of interleukin-6 and histamine, which may perhaps signify elevated levels of risk for future coronary occurrences.

There are numerous research evidences, both tentative and quasi-experimental, concerning human and even non-human populaces that show that the incessant exposure to stressful surroundings can bring forth physical illness. For instance, drivers of subway trains, which have injured or killed innocent individuals, are very much likely to be stressed and suffer from stress-related illnesses many months later (Shrand & Devine, 2012). On the other hand, air traffic controllers demonstrate a higher prevalence of high blood pressure along with being more likely to suffer from diabetes or ulcers. People who bestow long-term care to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s are likely to take longer to heal from physical wounds than a control group in one experiment (Lu & Bludau, 2011). There is still relatively fresh evidence that suggests that lengthened stress levels, in the form of the discharge of glucocorticoids in the brain, are able to affect the hippocampus negatively, which can mess up the memory function sequentially (Lupien, McEwen, Gunnar, & Heim, 2009). Apparently, the glucocorticoids interfere with the neurons by leaving them less protected against factors, such as the decreased flow of blood allied to aging. For instance, in one experiment, aged people having high blood levels of glucocorticoids studied a labyrinth more slowly than individuals of similar age group, but with normal glucocorticoid levels. In addition, during a study of a troop of monkeys, those that were in the lowest social order were controlled and harassed more by their counterparts, exposing them to long-drawn-out stress (Rossi, Quick, & Perrewe, 2009). When they died, autopsies of these «lower class» monkeys showed that they indicated peripheral indications of prolonged stress, for instance, an engorged adrenal gland. Interestingly, they further showed signs of hippocampus damage in regions found to be essential in memory.

In a study carried out on Vietnam War veterans who had long been exposed to combat stress, about 61.5 percent of the veterans who were found to possess a stress predilection allele were soon after identified to have posttraumatic stress disorder, as compared to only 5.3 percent of such individuals who never possessed any trace of the allele (Seaward, 2011). One of the most remarkable illustrations of the position of personality in health and stress response was a research in which investigators compared infancy responses against the cold pressor test of adulthood blood pressure. It should be noted that cold pressor experiment is a test intended for assessing predilection toward a stress reaction where participants are supposed to put their hands in chilled water for about a minute and records of their blood pressure taken. In this experiment, it was discovered that out of the individuals who portrayed hyper-reactive pressure responses when they were children in 1934, 70 percent had high blood pressure as adults as opposed to barely 19 percent of those who possessed a standard response to the pressor analysis during infancy (Seaward, 2010).

Real Life Experience on Stress

Two years ago, I underwent a tough, stressful experience, which made me realize just how stress can negatively affect a person’s health. In this case, I was busy enjoying a piece of roast chicken meat when I got a call from a stranger, asking me to rush immediately to the hospital. The stranger, who later identified himself as Dr. James Roberts, told me about a grisly road accident which had occurred, and that my girlfriend (whom I had thought to be enjoying her road trip to a nearby town) was involved in it and in a critical condition. I instantly lost my appetite and despite the sweet aroma of the chicken, the drive to eat disappeared completely. What followed was a series of sweating and shallow breathing, since I had imagined the worst. When I arrived at the hospital 30 minutes later, I knew for sure that my girlfriend, to whom I was planning to get married, had little chances of survival. From time to time, I experienced lots of stomachaches, butterflies in the stomach, muscle tensions, constipation, rapid heartbeats, dizziness, and chest pains. Perhaps the most prevalent side effect of stress that I experienced was frequent urination and back pain. In addition, I started having nightmares and sometimes I could dream that my girlfriend was being buried, forcing me to stay awake most of the time.

Sometimes circumstances may force one to believe in the existence of miracles; my girlfriend survived the numerous surgeries that doctors carried out on her. She had stayed in the hospital for eight days, which was the worst period in my entire life. I was so relieved that I regained my appetite almost immediately. The nightmares, chest pains, and episodes of sweating disappeared, though I discovered that I had lost so much weight in just eight days. This experience exposed me to the real health effects of negative stress and I realized how much damage it can do to one’s well-being.


From the above two discussions, it is evident that stress can both be a positive and negative social determinant of health. Positive stress focuses one’s energy where it is required, improves their performance, motivates them, and helps them in achieving their personal goals and work. On the other hand, high levels of stress can cause multiple illnesses and conditions on almost every part of the human body. Consequently, it is advisable to avoid prolonged exposure to stressful events or circumstances to stay healthy and live a long life.


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