Peter Reznik, LCSW

Stress and the Body

Everybody experiences stress in his or her lives. Like it or not stress is part of living. Work, retirement, exercise, pollution, family problems, loss of family members, bad physical health, the list in fact would be endless.

Modern life seems to be producing more and more threats to which we have no where to run. The demands on our bodies, therefore, grow and grow as we deal with the most basic needs for food, shelter and safety.

Many hormones are elevated in the body during stress. Three of the most important are norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol. Norepinephrine has the greatest effect in increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Epinephrine has the greatest effect in releasing stored sugar. Cortisol breaks down lean tissue for conversion to sugar as an additional source of energy. Cortisol also blocks the removal of certain acids in the bloodstream. When cortisol is elevated in the bloodstream for prolonged periods of time, it causes ulceration in the lining of the stomach because of increased acid formation. Some of the results of increase cortisol secretion are higher levels of fatty acids in the blood, breakdown of lean tissue and increased gastric acidity.

Though these elements of the bodies functioning were clearly designed to save us, they are now in most situations doing quite the opposite. The body in these situations seems to be working against us. This "fight or flight" response that kept the cave men from being eaten is in fact now, without control, eating us.

In almost two years since these statistics were published there has been an increase in every area, drug abuse as we read about every day in the papers presently on the largest upswing. Most important when you see these statistics is what is not reflected. Every time you see a stress related problem you mast also consider the effect it has on all the lives that this person comes in contact with. Like throwing a rock into a pond the ripple effect grows larger and larger.

Stress is the major factor in causing hypertension and coronary heart disease, migraine and tension headaches, ulcers, and asthmatic conditions.

Stress is also suspected to aggravate chronic backache, arthritis, allergies, hyperthyroidism, vertigo, and multiple sclerosis. Dermatologists find that stress is a factor in many skin disorders such as hives, exema, and dermatitis. It has also been associated with many gastrointestinal disorders including irritable colon and gastritis. Some of the excess hormones that the adrenal glands release during repeated stress responses can interfere with the body's immune system. A person then becomes more susceptible to bacteria and viruses. Research over the last fifteen years has also clearly demonstrated the relationship between stress and cancer.