Under Pressure – Homo sapiens, Stress and Health

Accept it: stress for better or worse is a part of our daily lives. No matter how positive we are as persons, no matter how laid back we live our lives, sooner or later stress will catch up to us. It is the third great unavoidable certainty after death and taxes.

Stress is an odd thing though. Our bodies and our psyche isn’t exactly built for stress. A hundred thousand years of Homo Sapiens evolution has left us vigilant creatures. Although we sit at the top of the food chain we are careful by design, always ready to jump into one of two pre-programmed instinctive responses fight or flight. This is mostly because humans in their ancestral form functioned according to vigilance and fear. They were always on the lookout for things to eat or looking to eat them and in case the latter showed up fear triggered an instinctive response.

Stress is an ambiguous threat. It is neither flight nor fight worthy which probably accounts for the mixed responses people have to similar stressful situations. The low-intensity ‘fear’ we feel when it’s crunch time at work keeps us on our toes but it isn’t something that we can easily address. Because of this, after a certain point the focus that stress instill in us starts to pale in comparison with the bad effects of stress.

And there are plenty. Stress is not only a major factor in heart illnesses, as one of the major triggers of heart attacks and related issues but it also has a health impact in other areas. Stress can lead to reduced immune responses, in some cases reducing it so much that dormant virus infections like herpes zoster can be triggered.

To get a clear assessment of the effects stress has on you specifically your best course of action is to take a simple self administered home saliva test for measuring cortisol levels and thus establish your adrenal fatigue level, a key indicator for how stressed you are. You can ask your physician for the cortisol saliva test or you can order it online yourself (http://www.healthtestingcenters.com/salivatests.aspx.)

You can also chart your stress level and your tolerance to it through its various symptoms. The effects of excessive stress can be best divided amongst four fields with only some of the symptoms manifesting for every person.

Cognitive problems affect your ability to reason properly. Stress usually reduces your ability to remember, concentrate or accurately judge situations and gives you a perpetual feeling of anxiety.

Emotionally, stress causes you to have a ‘short fuse’ and an inability to relax. A landmark study conducted on Army soldiers in Irak revealed that wartime stress has significant impact even on trained military personnel, causing them to react rashly to stimuli.

The same study revealed a good deal of behavioral symptoms ranging from isolation and loss of appetite to PTSD. The worst effects, however were those of a physical nature that ranged from muscle cramps and tension to chest pains, diarrhea, nausea and reduced immune response. By tracking which of the above you manifest as well you can chart your stress levels in a more systematic way than by just what you feel so your doctor can respond with an appropriate course of action.

As you can clearly see stress, despite its biological benefits does more harm than good in the modern world. The constant pressure of a stressful work environment keeps us focused but can just as well throw us off balance. So contact your doctor at the first physical signs of aggravating stress.

Categorized as Health