Stage 2 Psychology
Altered States of Awareness
Skill & Application Task no. 5
Stress and its effect on our psychological and physical health.
Has the following scenario ever happened to you? It’s nearly the end of the Maths test. You know the last financial problem needs to be solved as soon as possible, but suddenly you find yourself unable to concentrate while your heart starts beating faster. If similar situations have occurred to you, congratulations, you have experienced an indispensable state of senior years – stress. We all feel stress occasionally, but does anyone know what exactly stress is? Generally speaking, stress is a response when people are faced with challenging or dangerous situations. A study shows that experiencing stress is a natural part of life, as a limited amount of stress helps increase energy, alertness, and productivity in needed situations. However, if the duration of stress exceeds human’s capability to cope, it can become really harmful to our physical as well as psychological health.
Let’s start with the physical effects of stress. While proper exposure to stress is beneficial to us, chronic stress can cause severe impairment to the human body. When our survival mechanism of stress-response system, also known as “fight or flight” response, is triggered under stress, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released, leading to physiological changes including racing heartbeat and increased blood pressure. However, if a person’s stress level stays constantly elevated for a period, mild symptoms such as headaches and increased susceptibility to colds will start to appear. For people who suffered from chronic stress or persistent activation of the stress response, their arteries are more likely to be tightened and damaged due to increased heart rate and high blood pressure. This considerably increases the risk of heart disease as well as hypertension. Furthermore, stress hormone cortisol can cause the malfunction of the inner lining of blood vessels, which eventually leads to increased chances of heart attack and stroke. Additionally, stress can negatively affect one’s physical health by disrupting the immune system. The continuous release of stress hormone can restrain the normal functioning of immune cells. With the immune system weakened, it not only makes the human body more prone to infections but also slows down the process of wound healing. By repeatedly putting oneself into states of high alertness, stress can furtherly sabotage people’s physical health by causing hair loss, acne, obesity, and insomnia. With a multitude of stress-related problems reducing the quality of people’s social life and academic performance, they could lead to even more stress.
Apart from physical health, stress influences us on a psychological level as well. Research shows that triggered by the chronic stress, the repeated or recurrent release of stress hormone cortisol can contribute to the occurrence of the depressive symptom. Apart from raising one’s alertness when encountering a threat, stress can also lead to psychological arousals of an increased level of anxiety, which could trigger depression or mood disorder over time. Another study demonstrates that with elevated cortisol in the human body, it damages the hippocampus, a part of the brain which its malfunction is closely associated with depression. Furthermore, acute stress, which is characterised by severe stressors, can contribute to mental disorders as well. Researches show that exposure to stressors such as the death of a family member or bullying makes people more vulnerable to mental illness. Feeling of being trapped and unable to change the situation can cause the development of learned helplessness. When learned helplessness becomes the dominant mentality, the constant feelings of defeat and failure can not only induce mental conditions like depression and anxiety, and it also impedes the ability to learn. Stressful life events are also capable of causing impairment in the central nervous system, leading to the development of a problematic stress-response system that increases the risk of mental illness in adulthood.
As we all can tell, although a limited amount of stress is necessary and beneficial in our daily life, chronic and acute stress is capable of breaking us, causing tremendous damages to both physical and psychological health. If you recognise yourself experiencing any symptoms of stress that I mentioned above, you can utilise coping strategies include having more exercise, employing a healthy diet, or seeking support from friends and support groups to ease the condition. If the severity of stress has exceeded your capability of self-coping, do not hesitate to seek psychological interventions from professionals. With all that said, I hope you’ve gained a more profound understanding of stress and its effect on your psychological and physical health after this seminar. Thank you!
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