Lilly is stressed. Between a dysfunctional family, hectic school life, fights with friends, and hormone imbalances, Lilly feels like her entire world is crashing down around her. She is sick most of the time now; she has a terrible cough, sore throat, and constant headaches. She is snippy with her parents and complains about wanting to just stay in her dark, secluded room all the time. She makes the excuse that she has tons of homework to complete. Her friends have noticed she has been eating less and less at lunch, she rarely raises her hand in class, and she never hangs out on the weekends.
Her parents are talking about sending her to a therapist for mental help, and she already has a doctor’s appointment scheduled for next week. What Lilly and her parents do not understand is that the cause of all of Lilly’s symptoms is simply the fact that she is stressed out. Unfortunately, nearly no one realizes the serious ramifications stress can have on the human body. Teenagers and young adults are especially susceptible to stress because their lives tend to be the busiest, and their adult body and brain are not fully developed.
We find that more time spent on homework is associated with greater stress; more compromised health; and less time for family, friends, and other extracurricular pursuits” (Mathews, 1). Teens have school work to blame for some of their stress and young adults are trying to adjust to a new work life. Everyone feels stressed at some point in time. It brings on the humans’ natural fight-or-flight response. A little stress is even arguably beneficial for the body. It is when a person’s body stays in a stressed state for too long that the negative effects really settle in.
Because stress is so common in today’s society, many people do not realize the serious effects it can have on a person such as declining one’s health, corrupting their behaviors, and possibly leading to death. Stress can decline one’s health rapidly. Stress releases the chemicals cortisol and adrenaline in the brain; thus making a person more alert and full of energy. Education consultant Victoria Tennant’s article, for Johns Hopkins school of education, lists the specific physical reactions to stress, “blood pressure rises, breathing and heart rates speed up, blood vessels constrict, and muscles tense up” (Tennant, 1).
All of these reactions could help in an emergency moment. On the contrary, when enveloped in prolonged periods of stress the body never has time to recuperate. Tennant goes on to explain the lasting disorders one can contract. “Stress disorders can result such as: high blood pressure, headaches, reduced eyesight, stomachaches and other digestive problems, facial, neck and back pain. High levels of the major stress hormone, cortisol, depress the immune system. A number of studies found that high levels of cortisol are implicated in AIDS, MS, diabetes, cancer, coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease” (Tennant, 2).
Stress can take minor aches and pains and escalate them into serious conditions. An excellent example of this is in the television show based on Reba McEntire’s life entitled Reba. In season five: episode twenty-two, Reba has a heart attack while at her daughter’s dramatic re-wedding. She is rushed to the hospital and the whole family comes with. Reba’s ex-husband’s new annoying wife, Barbra Jean, attempts to help calm her while awaiting test results, but only stresses Reba even more so.
Amongst being annoyed with Barbra Jean, her daughter’s re-wedding being called off, trying to single-handedly keep her daughter’s marriage together at all, her worry for her own health, and many other convenient plot twists, it is a wonder Reba walked out of the hospital at all. Reba was released with orders to be bedridden, on medication, and to stay away from any and all stressors. This dramatized event for Reba fans is all too real for most people. Doctor Jeanne Segal’s article on Helpguide. org states, “Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of stress overload can also be caused by other psychological or medical problems” (Segal, 1).
Minor stress from one day cannot send a perfectly healthy man or woman to the emergency room. However, extreme stress over a long period of time can. Without giving the body a chance to repair itself from daily stress, minor aches and pains can quickly advance into serious medical problems. Obviously, stress can have damaging effects on a person’s health, yet it can also damage one’s behaviors as well. Many behaviors of a person are linked to how they feel. A happy person is more likely to dance to the radio in the car than an unhappy person.
Likewise, an overly stressed person is prone to angry outbursts more than a person who is only slightly stressed. There are outward behaviors that are changed or stopped when a person becomes stressed. In an article written by Steve Bressert, Ph. D, some possible behavioral symptoms of being overstressed are stated. “Decreased contact with family and friends, poor work relations, sense of loneliness, decreased sex drive, avoiding others and others avoid you because you’re cranky, failing to set aside times for relaxation through activities such as hobbies, music, art or reading” (Bressert, 1).
Behaviors are not just how a person acts towards others, but also how they act when treating themselves. Bressert lists some examples of this, “general negative attitudes or thoughts, … difficulty thinking in a logical sequence, the sense that life is overwhelming, … irritation, … frustration, … sense of helplessness” (Bressert, 2). All of these thoughts or feelings about oneself plus the added lack of social support as a result of outward behaviors can cause a person to become caught in a loop of conflict. Emma is in trouble.
Her student loans left her bankrupt, she is a single mother of two, and works part time. She comes home from work and goes straight into her bedroom. She leaves Big Bird and the others on Sesame Street to babysit the kids. She spends hours on her bank website trying to get her budget under control and yet always leaves with nothing getting accomplished. She only gets more frustrated as time goes by both with her situation and with herself for not being able to focus. Her kids get rowdy in the living room; her first reaction is to yell and send them straight to bed.
Her friends have not seen nor heard from her in months. Her family missed her at their last get-together. She is always putting herself down with negative comments. She is constantly cleaning, cooking, working, or budgeting. Emma is the majority of women today. She is over worked and cannot get her feet back under herself. These are all classic signs of a serious stress problem; it is effecting how she treats herself and those around her. These signs all scream one other word as well: depression. As Bressert points out in his article, stress is most commonly linked to the development of depression in adults.
Everyone knows depression is a major behavioral disorder, most people understand stress is linked to depression and the decline of one’s mental stability. However, how many people know that stress can actually send them to an early grave? Because stress generally lowers the body’s defense systems and overall harms a person, the condition of being overly stressed can actually kill the unsuspecting victim. AsapSCIENCE is a YouTube channel created and hosted by Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, two graduates of the University of Guelph in Biological Science, with the goal of teaching science concepts in quick, easy to understand videos.
In their video, “Can Stress Actually Kill You? ” they explain the Japanese term Karoshi. This term literally translates to “death by overwork” (Moffit and Brown). This disease is documented specifically in Japan; people in their prime and healthy suddenly experience heart attack and die. Detailed descriptions of the deaths include their arteries being clogged, preventing blood from reaching the heart, resulting in heart attack (Moffit and Brown). Take the example of Martha. Martha is 30 years old.
She exercises regularly and eats a strict, healthy diet. She is a lawyer for a very large global company. She is under extreme amounts of stress. One day when walking home from work frantically typing on her phone an email to her boss begging for an extension on her latest, high profile, case, her chest begins to feel like its cramping. She feels her heart being squeezed into pulp. She uncontrollably drops her phone and crouches over. A few bystanders call for emergency help, but it is no use. Martha dies before the ambulance arrives.
The autopsy later showed that there were exceptionally high levels of stress hormones throughout her blood stream and that her arteries were so clogged there was a stirring straw’s width left for her blood to trickle through. The stress hormone cortisol also plays a role in terms of an untimely demise because it is what helps the body divert energy where it is needed most in a stress event. As previously stated, when a body is stuck in a constant state of overdrive it can actually degrade the body.
When the body becomes so run down from stress, it is not unreasonable for it to give out and the person to die. Lilly is stressed, severely. It is a good thing her parents are forcing her to see a doctor. If she continues to be stressed out her sore throat will be the least of her worries. Her weakened immune system means she is more susceptible to major infections, viruses, and diseases due specifically to the fact that her white blood cell count is low. If Lilly has any history of heart disease, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease, the likelihood that she does develop them has significantly increased.
Looking at her behaviors, the fact that she is boarding herself off from friends and family is both a sign and a symptom of her loneliness and the beginning of her depression. She is losing weight because she is too stressed to eat. Her losing weight will change her body image, which will in turn change her level of self-esteem. The fact that she is not raising her hand in class proves she is unable to concentrate and possibly unable to learn at all. If Lilly would not go to the doctors, the physical and psychological effect of stress would drive her body to the brink of existence.
Her body would be running on whatever slim amounts of energy she has left, and when one final blow of stress comes her body will tap out of all its strength, and she will become deceased. Despite this horrid possibility, this will not happen to Lilly. She is going to a doctor. They will help her. She will see a therapist and get prescriptions if needed. She will learn about stress and how she can overcome it naturally. The brain has stress chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol, but it also has relief chemicals, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. A stressed person has to fight stress to overcome it.
The relief chemicals in the brain are released when one feels happy or becomes engaged in positive activities. Friends, family, fresh air, all have this effect on people. Everyone feels stressed at some point in time. Everyone deals with stress differently. However, not everyone knows just how serious and harmful stress can be. Because stress is so common in today’s society, very few people realize the serious effects it can have on a person’s physical health, behaviors towards others and themselves, and the possibility of death. Stress is the invisible killer.