Your Brain and Stress...
Dr. Kim Mulvihill
Friday, January 5, 2001
San Francisco, CA, USA -- You've heard the saying "it's all in your head". When it comes to stress, there's a lot of truth in it. As healthbeat team doctor Kim Mulvihill explains, stress is rooted in our brains.
A normal reaction to stress is a rise in blood pressure. In fact, the more stress a person feels the higher the blood pressure goes. Experts say that's a normal reaction, part of our body's response to a survival trait known as "fight or flight"
It starts in the brain. A perceived threat triggers stress hormones that stimulate the
pituitary gland to release more hormones called ACTH. They then travel to the adrenal gland, inducing it to release cortisol.
The cortisol boosts energy to parts of the body used in "fight or flight" then switches them off when the threat is over. But what happens if your body faces constant stress? Experts say continual release of these hormones can shrink the area of the brain linked to memory. Stress can also affect your ability to concentrate or study.
"So, for instance, if you are studying for an exam and you are under stress taking an exam, you have a release of these catacholomines and cortisol," says stress expert Dr. Douglas Bremner. "Some of these things can be a good thing, make you think faster and do better, but if you release too much you can't think at all, and you will completely flunk out."
But can the body tell the difference between good stress, say trying to win a million dollars, and bad stress, such as losing your job?
"The main differences are probably in the duration of the response against this is a response you want to turn off quickly, that's how it is designed to work," says Dr. Paul Plotsky.
That's why it's important to learn how to manage your stress, it can have a big impact on your quality of life.
Dr. Kim Mulvihill
Friday, January 5, 2001
San Francisco, CA, USA -- Most of us know that stress is bad for us and can affect our health, but are some kinds of stress worse than others? Healthbeat team doctor Kim Mulvihill has a quiz to help you find out.
Stress can send your immune system into a tailspin, sending our blood pressure and heart rate soaring. But is all stress created equal? Well, here are four examples of stress:
* Getting stuck in traffic
* Having marriage problems
* Getting robbed
* Taking care of a spouse with Alzheimer's
Which do you think is the least harmful, in the long term, to your immune system?
Experts say getting stuck in traffic is the answer, even if it happens every day. That's because you know it will be over at some point.
"It's probably not meaningful on health, just like if your blood pressure went up for a minute or two, it's not going to make a big difference," says Psychologist Janice Keicolt Glaser.
So what about the other stressors? Experts say getting mugged is the least harmful of the three because even though it's traumatic, it's a one-time event. However, it's a different story if the victim keeps thinking about it over and over.
"As you relive it, as you keep it alive in your mind, you are also keeping it alive physiologically unfortunately," says Keicolt Glaser.
As for the other two, having a troubled marriage or caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's, they are about the same. Experts say that's because both can go on and on with no end in sight.
There's also a gender difference. For instance, a bad marriage seems to affect women more than men.
"When women are remembering disagreements more and thinking about them more we know from our research that they're keeping them alive in their body in a bad way," says Keicolt Glaser.
Experts say the key to controlling stress is to let it go if you can, and to get help if you can't.
There are many ways to handle stress from exercise to listening to music, to talking to a friend or pet. Even something as simple as taking a slow deep breath. We just need to find what works best and use it.
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