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How Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Affect Your Health

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How Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Affect Your Health

How Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Affect Your Health
By Andre Carvajal
Edited By Stephanie Dawson

Stress is a response to a stressor, anything that challenges our system and forces us to adapt to new circumstances. The brain interprets the stressor as a potential or imminent danger. Having, maintaining, or losing a job, relationship issues, or any situation is a potential stressor. The stress response includes biological, physiological, psychological and cognitive adaptations to overcome fear from this stressor. Stress is not bad by itself, we need a healthy amount of stress to live and keep us alert. Intermittent or controlled stress can make us more resilient with a better capacity to cope with stressful routines or events.

Modern life has several stress-related ailments that are top causes of death and hospitalizations including heart disease, Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, allergies, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia just to mention a few. Chronic stress is responsible for this, a chronic stressor is one that lasts for an extended period of time like poverty, unemployment, and abusive relationships.The effects of stress are worse when unpredictable. In lab tests a rat exposed to chronic and unpredictable stress changes behavior and brain synergy. People have different capacities for dealing with stress and we react according to life experiences using different strategies. Some react to stressors with allergies, chronic pain, cramps or headaches, others suffer from hyperhydrosis, some dwell on situations they cannot change, or develop phobias or obsessions to relieve anxiety. The stress reactions of our body are related biologically to an over-activation of the sympathetic pathways. Each time we are stressed we activate this system that affects our behavior, feelings, and responses because of hormones, neurotransmitters, and autonomic nerve pathways that regulate physical responses to stress.

When we are stressed our bodies produce two crucial hormones commonly known as bad hormones for their relationship with stress, adrenaline and cortisol. They are essential to many bodily functions as neurotransmitters and facilitating survival responses. Cortisol is responsible for many immune reactions, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and assists with blood sugar regulation. This hormone is the natural guardian of our body toward stressors and is produced in reaction to stressors supporting the immune system. Any imbalance will depress the immune system and affect all bodily functions.

How Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Affect Your Health

Some researchers show that high levels of adrenaline correlates to better outcomes in mathematics, reaction time tasks, and demanding activities for extended periods that demand high concentration. Other observations of the positive effects of high adrenaline were students with high levels of adrenaline, measured through blood samples, were more satisfied with school, their level of social adaptation is better, and they are more emotionally stable than students with low levels. Researchers have created a hypothesis using several studies to show that some bursts of adrenaline and other stress-related hormones could be beneficial if they are applied intermittently, not chronically. Stress hormones can help people deal with daily stress without heavy consequences.

Similar effects happen with cortisol, intermittent repetition of stressors can make an organism more resilient and able to cope with stressors. In major depression or bipolar disorder high levels of cortisol have often been found, as in many other chronic conditions or chronic exposure to stress. This abnormal rise of cortisol levels in clinically depressed people shows a clear relationship between stress and depression. Chronic stress can depress the immune system, creating a spiral of depressive symptoms such as fatigue, lack of energy, lack of motivation, negative thoughts, and higher sensitivity to pain.


Stress alone does not cause depression, most people can handle death of a relative, job loss, an accident, or a breakup without developing depression but many simply cannot. Depressed people are also less resistant to stressors and are more affected by stress-related reactions than others. Learning and development are slowed and the person may feel high stress toward socialization which can lead to social incompetence and isolation.

Mizoguchi K, Yuzurihara M, Ishige A, Sasaki H, Chui DH, Tabira T (2000). “Chronic stress induces impairment of spatial working memory because of prefrontal dopaminergic dysfunction”. J Neurosci 20 (4): 1568–74.
Leistad, R.. Stovner, L. White, L., Nilsen, K., Westgaard, R & Sand, T. (2007) Noradrenalide and cortisol changes in response to low grade cognitive stress differ in migraine and tension-type headache. The journal of headache and Pain , 8(3), 157-166.
Effects of prenatal exposure to a mild chronic variable stress on body weight,preweaning mortality and rat behavior R.J. Cabrera,; E.L. Rodríguez-Echandía, A.S.G. Jatuff and M. Fóscolo Brtazilian Journal of Medical and Biological research (1999) 32: 1229-1237

Mary F. Dallman, Seema Bhatnagar Chronic Stress and Energy Balance: Role of the Hypothalamo‐Pituitary‐Adrenal Axis Source: Supplement 23: Handbook of Physiology, The Endocrine System, Coping with the Environment: Neural and Endocrine Mechanisms
Photo Credit: http://www.heartmath.com/infographics/how-stress-effects-the-body.html

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