Stress is bad for us, right? Not necessarily. We know that we perform best when under stress, when we have to gather all our resources to produce results, like before a big meeting or an exam. Sort of like our ancestors when being chased by a lion. Stress forces the production of a range of hormones that boost our reaction: run or fight. We get pumped on epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, get a burst of energy to cope with a stressful situation. For a long time, it was believed that only one thing suffers while we are under stress: our immune system. The Stanford University School of Medicine researchers now found that short-term stress actually stimulates immune activity.
The study reviewed 30 years of scientific research on the subject and 300 scientific publications. The goal of researchers led by Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar was to find out how hormones triggered by stress enhance immune readiness. Their study provides the evidence that immune responsiveness is increased, not suppressed as previously believed, by the acute stress.
Scientists believe that their findings might someday enable us to manipulate the production of the stress-induced hormone levels, in order to improve the recovery from surgery or wounds.
Chronic stress ” “ a very different story
Chronic stress is the way we respond to emotional pressure that lasts a long time and which we believe we cannot control. The reaction is not only emotional: it also involves our endocrine system and the production of hormones involved in ” ˜fight or flight” ™ reaction. The increased production of these hormones is supposed to be temporary, while we are ‘under attack.’ If the perceived attack is prolonged, our body gets flooded with hormones that affect the functioning of our entire system.
- Chronic stress increases our risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
- Long-term psychological stress can shorten the life of people like those caring for chronic patients.
- Another study shows how chronic stress affects our mood by blocking a gene called neuritin and leads to depression and other mental problems.
What can we do?
Nature found the way to protect us by allowing our bodies to quickly react to the danger by increasing energy, speed and even immune system. But, dangers are not supposed to last. In our modern lives, we often live like we are constantly under attack. We pay for the lifestyle under constant pressure by a range of psychological and physical ailments. Chronic stress is not the way to live and we need to fight it, before it kills us. If you cannot get out of stressful situation, stressful job or an impossible boss, try to find a way to relax. Increased exercise, short breaks, breathing exercises, yoga, soothing music and visualization all help. Find out what works for you. Look for help if you need it. Sometimes a chronic stress is caused by something that is only perceived as a threat, and can be controlled and changed with professional help.