Life is full of pressures, demands and challenges. At some point, everyone experiences a time when they feel like the world is crashing down around them. These feelings can result in an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety. According to Merriam-Webster, stress is a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc. and anxiety is an uneasy state of mind usually over the possibility of an anticipated misfortune or trouble. Anxiety is a reaction to a stressful event, or a fight or flight response.
Stress can cause debilitating effects on the body and mind, including health issues and stress related disorders. It is important to understand how the body reacts to these threats and the relationship of chronic stress and anxiety to the brain. Exploring management and treatment options is essential to overcoming the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety and minimizing the detrimental effects on normal daily living. Because stress and anxiety can have negative effects upon the physical and mental health of people, it is essential to be cognizant of the causes and familiar with methods for treating and managing it.
It is important for researchers to continue to study the impact of stress on the brain and its functions in order to develop new and improved methods of treatment that are successful in reducing stress and anxiety before long term health problems and stress related disorders appear. Stress can come in the form of good stress or bad stress. Stress is a normal biological reaction to a frightening or dangerous situation. However, for some people stress can be a good thing, such as when they are excited, while for many others it can be bad stress caused by a reaction to chronic fatigue, frustration, worry or an overall inability to cope . A healthy brain provides for control of effective self-regulation including the physiological responses to stress that are regulated by the peripheral and central nervous systems (McEwen, 2014). The brain is the central organ of stress and adaption to stressors because it perceives what is potentially threatening and determines the behavioral and physiological responses (McEwen, Gray and Nasca 2014.) When the brain senses danger, the hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain, sends signals to the adrenal glands which release a large quantity of hormones. Theses hormones help prepare people for danger and increase their chances for survival. The hormone adrenaline, also known as epinephrine or the fight or flight response, is responsible for the various changes to the body that occur when an individual is under stress. Canadian-Hungarian medical scientist, Hans Selye, is known for introducing the idea of stress into discussions throughout the medical field (McEwen 2014)). He used the emergency reaction of the sympathetic nervous system and adrenocortical system for his classic theory of stress, exemplified by the flight or fight response. He suggested the general adaptation syndrome, which was a predictable to look at how the body responds to stress. Selye identified three distinct stages in this syndrome, the initial stage triggered by a stressful event, the resistance stage whereby the body’s nervous system resists the impact of the stressful event. Finally, the third stage when physical symptoms begin to appear in the body such as rapid heartbeat, increased breathing, increased perspiration, and contracted blood vessels, etc. He suggested if the stressor continued, exhaustion would occur at this stage and the consequence could be illness or death. Selye’s view of stress and the general adaptation syndrome is no longer interpreted to mean that all types of stress induce the same response of the stress mediators. New knowledge has been found to indicate that stress mediators can have both protective and damaging effects causing the body to experience problems. This makes Selye’s third stage no longer accurate. As a result of ongoing research, the terms allostasis and allostatic overload are used to link the protective and damaging effects of the biologic response to stressors. Allostasis is the active process of responding to challenges to and adaptive changes by an individual (McEwen, Gray Nasca). This process involves many mediators including cortisol, immune/inflammatory, metabolic, etc. and they interact with each other and can adapt as long as they are properly turned on when needed and turned off when not needed. Too much stress or overuse of the mediators can result in allostatic load and overload (McEwen, Gray Nasca). When stress is repeated over a lengthy period of time, it causes some neurons to breakdown, impairing memory, while others continue to grow creating increased fear. As mentioned early, stress can be related to work, daily life, or constant worry about things. There are several types of stress including acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress (Legg 2018). Everyone experiences acute stress. Acute stress is the body’s immediate reaction to a new or difficult situation, such as speaking in front of a large audience. Episodes of acute stress generally don’t cause any harm and can actually help prepare the body and brain for other stressful situations. However, in a situation of severe acute stress involving a life-threatening situation, mental health problems or disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur. Episodic acute stress occurs when there are more frequent episodes of acute stress. People who are anxious or worried about what could happen or feel their life consists of one crisis after another can experience episodic acute stress. Occupations that involve high-stress situations such as police officers or firefighters are more susceptible to this type of stress. Similar to severe acute stress, this type of stress can affect a person’s physical and mental health. Finally, the last type of stress is chronic stress. This type of stress can have long term negative effects on the body because it consists of extremely high levels of stress for long periods of time. This type of stress can cause problems such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart problems and a weakened immune system (Legg 2018) The influences encountered in the course of life, especially early life, can result in healthy or unhealthy brain architecture. Brain structure and the life stressors associated with it can contribute to later mental and physical health problems. In studies using the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) tool it was found that low socioeconomic status and poverty increases the likelihood of stressors in the home and neighborhood. Using animal models, experiments have shown that prenatal stress impairs the hippocampal development in rats, as does adolescent stress. (McEwen Gray). Poor maternal care in rodents and the attachment shown by infant rats to their less-attentive mothers appears to involve an immature amygdala. Maternal anxiety in the variable foreign demand (VFD) model in rhesus monkeys leads to chronic anxiety in the offspring. This study was intriguing to me and presented some interesting points