1 in 5 Americans experience “extreme stress,” resulting in shaking, heart palpitations, and/or depression.
3 out of 4 doctor’s visits are for stress-related complaints or disorders.
Stress is the basic cause for 60% of all human illness and disease.
Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis, and suicide.
An estimated one million workers were absent each day in the United States because of stress-related complaints. Stress is said to be responsible for more than half of the 550,000,000 workdays lost annually because of absenteeism.
A three-year study by a large corporation showed that 60% of employee absences were due to psychological problems such as stress.
Nearly half of all American workers suffered from symptoms of burnout, a disabling reaction to stress on the job.
During times of stress, or change, the body produces high levels of two important hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol works to mobilize food stores so that your body has the energy it needs to think and act quickly. Adrenaline increases your metabolism, diverts blood to the muscles, makes you breathe faster, increases the speed and strength of your heartbeat, and makes blood clot easier (for healing purposes). The hormonal system is not the only system affected, as stress also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing sweaty palms, a churning stomach, and dry mouth. All of these changes are beneficial in the short term, especially when dealing with an imminent change (like a dangerous or harmful situation). Long-term exposure to stressful conditions, however, is much more dangerous. It has been shown that biological reactions to long-term stressors (those events which cause stress) become inadequate or inappropriate, and can lead to various disorders affecting numerous parts of the body. According to How to Survive Unbearable Stress, a book written by Dr. Steven Burns and Kimberley Burns, these are some of the disorders and symptoms that can affect various parts of the body because of stress or overstress:
Stress affects various chemicals in our body, including serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. Serotonin is the chemical that regulates our internal clock, which in turn regulates sleep. Therefore, one of the symptoms of stress is often a change in how one sleeps. Noradrenaline is the chemical that regulates our energy level. A low noradrenaline level leaves us feeling exhausted, tired, droopy and without energy. When we are under stress, we often have a lot less energy. Dopamine is related to both pleasure and pain. It is tightly connected with endorphins, the chemicals that regulate pain. When dopamine levels are low, endorphin levels are low as well. When under stress, we are more sensitive to pain. Dopamine is also the chemical that runs what is known as the body’s pleasure center. Drugs like tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and heroin stimulate the body’s pleasure center. When dopamine levels are low, the pleasure center gradually stops working.
Most people try to alleviate the symptoms of stress (fatigue, aches, low energy level), but do not reduce the actual amount of stress in their life. One of the primary ways of alleviating the symptoms of stress is through the consumption of products that can temporarily elevate serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine levels. These products include sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, and adrenaline. Unfortunately, the benefits produced from all of the above products are temporary. The only real way to completely alleviate stressful symptoms is to remove the cause of stress.
Stress is caused by change; the more change in one’s life, the higher the stress level. This is why teenagers are particularly susceptible to negative stress reactions. Their lives are filled with changes, both physically and socially. Teasing, bullying and rejection, which are commonplace among teens, increases their stress level. The overall suicide rate in the US has declined over the last few years, but the teen suicide rate has increased. Many attribute this to increased stress. Teenagers generally resort to products like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and drugs to help alleviate their stressful situations. This can actually make the overall problem of stress worse, because the teen will eventually have to consumer greater quantities of products to feel better.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How often do you feel stressed? What are the causes of this stress?
What effects does stress have on your body, mind, emotions, motivation, and productivity?
What are some effective ways to reduce stress in your life? How are you–or can you–implement them? Are there lifestyle changes that you or your family need to make?
How important do you think reducing stress is?
Teenagers are very susceptible to stress and its negative effects. Adults need to understand stress, and how we seek to alleviate, both so they can handle stress in their own lives and so they can teach teens how to handle it. If teens do not learn to reduce stress as teens, they often face a life-long, uphill battle against stress.
Long-term and extreme stress can cause serious physical problems. We should prioritize finding ways to live with lower stress levels even as a preventative health measure.
Stress is a part of everyday life, but the physical and psychological implications should not be taken lightly. Estimates say that 10% of the U.S. population is overstressed, and at great risk for a number of physical ailments: