Stress: its sur­pris­ing im­pli­ca­tions for health

Pakistan Observer - - KARACHI CITY -

Whether it is down to work pres­sure, money wor­ries or re­la­tion­ship trou­bles, most of us ex­pe­ri­ence stress at some point in our lives. In fact, around 75% of us re­port ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mod­er­ate to high lev­els of stress over the past month. It is well known that stress can cause sleep prob­lems, headache and raise the risk of de­pres­sion. But in this Spot­light, we look at some of the more sur­pris­ing ways in which stress may harm our health.

The Na­tional In­sti­tute of Men­tal Health (NIMH) de­fine stress as the “brain’s re­sponse to any de­mand.” In other words, it is how the brain re­acts to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions or events.

It is im­por­tant to note that not all stress is neg­a­tive. Many of us who have been in a pres­sur­ized sit­u­a­tion may have found that stress has pushed us to per­form bet­ter. This is down to a “fight-or-flight” re­sponse, whereby the brain iden­ti­fies a real threat and quickly re­leases hor­mones that en­cour­age us to pro­tect our­selves from per­ceived harm.

It is when this fight-or-flight re­sponse over­re­acts that prob­lems arise, and this usu­ally hap­pens when we find our­selves ex­posed to con­stant threats.

“Stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the per­sonal, so­cial and ma­te­rial re­sources that are pri­mary to us. So, threat to self, threat to self-es­teem, threat to in­come, threat to em­ploy­ment and threat to our fam­ily or our health,” Ste­van Hob­foll, PhD, the Judd and Mar­jorie Wein­berg pres­i­den­tial pro­fes­sor and chair at Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Chicago, IL, and mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (APA), told Med­i­cal News To­day.

In Fe­bru­ary last year, the APA re­leased their an­nual “Stress in Amer­ica” Sur­vey, which as­sesses the at­ti­tudes and per­cep­tions of stress and iden­ti­fies its pri­mary causes among the gen­eral pub­lic.

The sur­vey, com­pleted by 3,068 adults in the US dur­ing Au­gust 2014, re­vealed that the pri­mary cause of stress among Amer­i­cans is money, with 72% of re­spon­dents re­port­ing feel­ing stressed about fi­nances at some point over the past month. Of th­ese, 22% said they had felt “ex­treme stress” in the past month as a re­sult of money wor­ries.

The sec­ond most com­mon cause of stress among Amer­i­cans was found to be work, fol­lowed by the econ­omy, fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and per­sonal health con­cerns. On a pos­i­tive note, av­er­age stress lev­els among Amer­i­cans have de­creased since 2007. On a 10-point scale, re­spon­dents rated their stress lev­els as 4.9, com­pared with 6.2 in 2007. How­ever, the APA say such lev­els re­main sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the 3.7 stress rat­ing we con­sider to be healthy.

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