Seven steps to living healthy life – Part 5
Stress is commonly described as the impact of a negative force (could be neutral or positive), from within and without on an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing. An individual’s response to stressors (stress-causing situations) generally affects the individual directly or his environment. Human beings are exposed to these stressors on a daily basis but responses differ due to certain factors.
These factors include the overall wellbeing and fitness, nutritional status, psychological fitness and soundness of the mind, the spiritual standing and the amount of rest and sleep the individual gets daily. These are the internal factors that determine an individual’s ability to deal with the external forces that cause stress.
The external forces or stressors that we are commonly faced within our environment on a daily basis will include jobs and money, relationships especially marital, affecting women more, whether or not the marriage is blessed with children. Another marital stressor is third party involvement, which can cause stress in both husband and wife.
Apart from marital, other kinds of relationships and the difficulties, challenges, and expectations that individuals have do cause stress around here. Disappointments that people are faced with always are also a major cause of stress in our environment. It could be disappointments from parents, a spouse, one’s boss or friends. In our cities, Lagos most especially, traffic build-up is a major cause of stress and it is worthy of note that a lot is being done to alleviate this cause of stress. According to Dr. Batmanghelidj (of blessed memory), the number one stressor is dehydration.
Now, I will like to show you a bit of the neurochemistry that is involved in the causation of stress and to see how we can deal with stress whenever it occurs in our lives. The main stress hormone is known as cortisol. Cortisol is secreted from the adrenal glands, which are positioned on top of both kidneys. Before cortisol is secreted, the corticotrophin-releasing hormone is secreted by the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) in response to stress. The corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulates the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland (also found in the brain) to cause it to release adrenocorticotropic hormone. This hormone acts on the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone belonging to the glucocorticoids, which are secreted in response to stress. The primary function of cortisol is to redistribute glucose to areas of the body that require it more for the production of energy in a stress-causing situation. When the body is confronted with an external stress-causing force the immediate response is the fight-or-flight response and at such a time the brain and the muscles need energy the most. It is the responsibility of cortisol to redistribute energy to these organs to facilitate fight or flight. Secondly, cortisol, which is a product of cholesterol in the adrenal cortex, suppresses the immune system and aids in fat and protein metabolism for alternative sources of fast energy generation.
Two other neurotransmitters among others that play a significant role during stress are norepinephrine and serotonin. Norepinephrine, a primary chemical messenger of the central nervous system prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter is thought to be involved in mood regulation. Symptoms like fear, anxiety, and depression have been associated with stress-induced serotonin dysfunction. A third chemical messenger, neuropeptide is a protein that is synthesized in the hypothalamus and plays an important role in appetite, satiety and feeding behaviour.
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
In discussing the signs and symptoms of stress it is important to note that the following organs and parts of the body are affected in a stressful condition: the brain and nerves, muscles and joints, the heart, stomach and intestines, the pancreas and the reproductive organs.
The signs and symptoms of stress may be behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical. Behavioral symptoms are excessive eating (maybe less), too much [or too little] sleep, dependence on alcohol, narcotic drugs, and cigarettes, living in isolation, neglecting responsibility and nervous habits like pacing and nail-biting.
Emotional symptoms are restlessness, irritability, agitation, short temper, moodiness, the feeling of loneliness, isolation, unhappiness, and feeling of depression.
Cognitive symptoms are loss of memory and other memory problems, poor judgment, anxiety, pessimism, constant worrying and inability to concentrate.
Physical symptoms are aches, pains, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness chest pain, increased heartbeat, loss of libido (sex drive) and frequent colds.
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