Dr. Waliul Hasnat Sajib
One of the most familiar words in our lives is ‘stress’. Often we or others say that we are under a lot of stress. Study stress, work stress, financial stress, family stress, office stress – there is no end to this stress. When we say ‘under stress’ it means that we are dealing with some hurdles at the moment which are causing discomfort inside us. These hurdles can be both external and internal or psychological.
The word “stress” sounds like something negative where in reality, stress can be positive as well. For example, you are longing for a promotion so you are spending a little more time in the office or trying to work accurately so that you make no mistake that will hinder your promotion. Or you want to get a good grade in your upcoming exam so you’re spending a little more time on study. These are positive stress.
When a person is dealing with stress for too long but is not getting relief from it, it is called negative stress or distress. Forty-three percent of adults have been diagnosed with mental stress. More than 50 percent of people suffer from physical distress as well as mental problems for not solving stressful problems in time.
The human body or mind very often has to deal with stress. Sometimes this stress goes away within a short time, sometimes not. Depending on the type, amount, and timing of the stimulus, stress can cause a variety of changes in the body even lead to death.
Short-term stress is good for the body. Because it helps you cope with the problem. When your body is under stress, it releases certain hormones called stress hormones which increase your heart rate, respiratory rate, and keep the muscles ready to handle the response. However, when this hormone continues to be released for too long, your body can no longer adapt to it, which adds new troubles in the body.
Hormonal changes during stress:
Under stress, corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) is released from the hypothalamus of the brain which acts on the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which in turn acts on the adrenal gland to release mineralocorticoid stress hormones named adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us cope with stress through physiological responses. Previously it was thought that there were no receptors for hormones in the brain so hormones only work outside the brain. But studies have shown that hormones work in different parts of the brain to influence our behavior, judgment, and comprehension. The Hippocampus of the brain has both mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors, but in other parts of the brain, there are only receptors for glucocorticoid hormones.
Due to such hormonal response, chronic stress can cause the following physical and mental distress-
- Since stress hormones work in these areas of the brain, if the stress is long-term, the function and structural changes of the hippocampus also occur at the same time. Not only that, but the number of neurons also decreases so that the brain dries out at once and its weight also decreases. This hippocampus is responsible for memory formation. It transforms information from transient to long-term memory. Prolonged exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids dries out the hippocampus. As a result, memory is impaired. PTSD which is a stress disorder, therefore, results in a smaller volume of the hippocampus and forgetfulness.
- Stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol increase your heart rate and blood flow. Stress hormones constrict blood vessels and send much more oxygenated blood to the muscles. But if this mechanism runs for too long it can cause high blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of stroke. At the same time, these hormones increase our breathing rate, oxygen concentration, and send oxygenated blood to the necessary places in the body. So the condition of an asthma patient can exaggerate many times. In addition, to these breathing and heart rate, some other symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, burning sensation in the throat or chest.
- Although stress is not responsible for stomach ulcers, it does not allow stomach ulcers to dry out easily because stress weakens the immune system. Due to stress, the liver produces extra glucose and provides the necessary energy to the body. But prolonged stress keeps the glucose level always high which can lead to diabetes.
- Cortisol causes fat accumulation in the center of the body and it also increases our appetite. Stress tightens the muscle and tries to protect us from any injury. However, when this stress is reduced, the muscles relax again as before. But under prolonged stress, it can no longer be relaxed. This can cause headaches, backaches, or neck pain.
- Long-term stress tends to reduce sexual interest. Short-term stress increases the levels of the male hormone testosterone, but long-term stress decreases it. As a result, sperm production decreases and sexual dysfunction occurs. In the case of women, menstrual abnormalities are seen. Studies have shown that at 9 percent of women stop menstruating due to stress and 33 percent menstruate irregularly. Moreover, the release of growth hormone, prolactin, and thyroid hormone also changes under chronic stress which causes Graves’ disease, weight gain, and decreases libido.
- Short-term stress boosts our immune system and helps solve temporary problems but long-term stress weakens our immune system which can lead to infections as well as delayed wound healing.
Many seek relief from stress with the help of cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs. But in reality, such relief is temporary, instead these addictions cause more stress in the long run. So it will be much easier to get rid of stress if you seek the help of a psychiatrist without taking any unhealthy method and get treatment in time.