Medically, it has been established that chronic symptoms of anxiety and stress can crumble our body`s immune system. Irrespective of the nature of the causes of stress—real or perceived—our subconscious mind reacts with the same body response by releasing stress hormones equal to the degree of our fear, worry or sense of threat. It brings about changes in the body`s biochemical state with extra epinephrine and other adrenal steroids such as hydrocortisone in the bloodstream. It also induces increased palpitation and blood pressure in the body with mental manifestations such as anger, fear, worry or aggression. In short, stress creates anomalies in our body`s homeostasis. When the extra chemicals in our bloodstream don`t get used up or the stress situation persists, it makes our body prone to mental and physical illnesses.
For example, imagine a secretary in an office. Her boss comes in, angry and furious. He starts blasting the secretary for no apparent reasons. Now, her activated adrenaline cycle would tell her to flee or fight. Her senses become acute, muscles tighten, heartbeats and blood pressure increase and brain activity speeds up. She would probably like to walk out or alternatively, turn around and punch him in the face. But she does neither, for to do so might mean losing her job. So what follows? She burns up a lot of her body energy without achieving anything. At the end of the day she would be left mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted—classic symptoms of anxiety and stress. It can happen to anybody from a high profile businessman to a student, an executive or a homemaker. All are burning out their energies to defend themselves from their real or perceived causes of stress.
New medical research has established that prenatal stress could significantly influence development of the brain and organization of behavior in fetus.
Researchers explain that because stress affects many of the body`s systems— nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine and immune— there is good reason to believe that severe emotional stress could cause defects in the fetus, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy when development occurs at the fastest rate.
In women who are exposed to severe stress and anxiety, this effect is caused by reduced blood flow through the arteries that feed the uterus. Usually, the cranial nerve crest, a structure of cells that is thought to contribute to the development of the head and face in a fetus, gets affected.
According to Dr Vivette Glover, research head of a study linking obstetrics, pediatrics, psychology and psychiatry, experiment on animals shows that maternal, fetal, or neonatal experience can set the stress responses of the developing offspring for life. If true, in human beings this could predispose children to have behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, or cause them to suffer from depression in later life.
Stress & Aging
Aging is a natural and gradual process, except under extreme circumstances such as stress or grief. The constant stressors or stress conditions result in a loss in neural and hormonal balance. This loss of balance will cause increased oxidative damage accelerating aging in our body. That`s because, chronic disturbances in body homeostasis ultimately affect our hormone secreting glands, cell repair and collagen in our skin and connecting tissues. Immune and neural degenerative diseases prevent this otherwise inevitable process from following the normal and healthy course of events.
Recent research results suggest that long-term exposure to adrenal stress hormones may boost brain aging in later life.
Scientists at the University of Kentucky in Lexington looked at the results of memory tests taken by elderly patients with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, released by adrenal glands when the body is stressed. That high-level group scored lower than others with reduced levels of the hormone, researchers say.
The level of hormone released apparently affects the total volume of the brain`s hippocampus—a major source of recall and memory function, in later life. Researchers found those with high levels of hormone release, had a hippocampus volume 14 per cent less than those with lower levels.
The study results suggest that, ‘chronic stress may accelerate hippocampal deterioration’ leading to accelerated physical and brain aging.
Stress & Pets
We often remain oblivious to the idea that pets—animals and birds— also suffer from stress. Pets are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and are known to develop emotional bonding with their owners as well as fellow pets. `Change` triggers stress in animals the same way it triggers stress in humans. Health conditions also affect the pets` psychological state.
Conditions such as illnesses, travel, breeding, separation from owner, shifting, addition or loss of a family member or another household pet, can cause stress in animals. In such cases, pets become extremely bored or show symptoms of severe stress such as fear, anxiety and restlessness.
A bored pet dog would slowly chew, destroy things or move objects in and around the household, eat or drink excessively, and sometimes, even create inflammation conditions like ‘lick granuloma’ (usually an ulcerated area on a dog`s wrist or ankle caused by the dog`s own incessant licking ). They also tend to bark a lot when they are bored. Stressed out dogs show signs of shaking, trembling, restlessness and destructiveness. It is just as important to treat boredom, as it is to treat anxiety.
Tips to Keep Your Pets in Good Humor
• Provide exercise to your pet dog several times a day.
• Don`t take the same route everyday when you take your dog for a walk.
• Don`t use corrective measures such as yelling and hitting since they only increase anxiety in pets.
• Don`t let the pet `lounge` around. Be sure to provide enough stimuli to your pets when you are present at home. play with them and pet them.
• Contrary to popular belief, getting another pet, as company for a lonely pet, does not necessarily alleviate boredom. If only your bored pet has a strong personality, you may find that it teaches its companion how to break the boredom.
• If your dog has developed lick granulomas, seek medical a well as behavioral attention to break that habit.
• If your dog is exhibiting behavior that is indicative of separation anxiety, seek help from a qualified professional as soon as possible, because not all dogs respond to a standard treatment.
Behavior therapy in conjunction with medication can alleviate stress in pets.
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