BY: CAPRI MILLS
Hi! My name is Capri Mills. I'm a junior in high school and have a passion for science, psychology, and writing. I also enjoy giving back to the environment and my community in any way I can. After high school, I plan to continue on a neuroscience path throughout college and beyond.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic hit its one-year mark, and it’s a subtle reminder of everything we’ve experienced in the past year, stress being the main part of that. And while Americans tend to be pretty stressed in general, the pandemic has brought stress levels to new heights. In a recent survey, 78% of adults reported that the coronavirus is a significant stressor in their life (“Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis”). This number is clearly indicative of the current mental health crisis. Out of every generation, though, Gen Z seems to carry the most stress, as their future will be the most impacted by current decisions- ones they have little to no control over. Over 50% have reported feeling stressed about high suicide rates, presidential elections, and widespread sexual assault/harassment (“Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis”). Now, when we tend to think of stress, we see it as something fleeting, coming and going with new changes and such. Unfortunately, stress is not this short-term. It can actually have long-lasting impacts on your life, which is quite concerning after hearing those statistics. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be aware of the effects of stress, as well as strategies to deal with it, with all of the political and mental discourse occurring. But before we get into the effects of stress, let’s state the facts on what stress actually is.
When approached with danger, your brain floods your body with chemicals and hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This leads to an increase in heart rate, energy level, and blood pressure (“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”). Back in the Stone Age, these increased vitals were a good thing, as they helped humans keep alert and face predators. Nowadays, however, stress signals aren’t actually needed most of the time they happen. Instead, they are merely a product of evolution that we’re stuck with for the time being. On top of all of this, a lot of the time, stressors don’t actually “shut off”. When the “threat” (such as a looming presidential election, worrying about being sexually assaulted, etc.) doesn’t go away within a certain time period. Your heart and blood pressure don’t return to their baseline before the next “stress attack” hits (“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”; Dhabhar). This opens a whole other can of worms; stress begins to affect your mental health and body on a greater level.
Long-term stress puts you at risk for anxiety, depression, and reduced happiness, and these are only the mental effects (“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”). Physically, stress can weaken your immune system, trigger headaches and stomachaches, cause excessive sweating, tightness or soreness in joints, and more (Wellness Team). It can even become life-threatening; too much of that pesky hormone cortisol can cause stroke, heart disease, and asthma. Clearly, stress isn’t exactly the best thing. People tend to underestimate just how much of an impact stress can have, brushing their stressors away and claiming themselves to be fine. But this is only more detrimental in the long run. In order to avoid the adverse physical and mental effects of stress, it is necessary to identify key stressors in one’s life and try to manage, and possibly eliminate them.
Fortunately, all hope is not lost. There are numerous doctor-approved strategies to treat and overcome stress. These include cognitive therapy, volunteering, eating healthy, creating strong friendships, trying yoga or meditation, and more (“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”). Most of the time, stress doesn’t actually get you anywhere and only makes things worse, especially in the future. So, employing techniques like these will be incredibly helpful, and you’ll thank yourself in the long run. Currently, with the ongoing pandemic, it’s more important than ever to face and conquer stress. The bad news: stress can be super serious if left untreated. The good news: stress can certainly be handled and decreased. So don’t stress it.
“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Mar. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.
Dhabhar, Firdaus S. “The Short-Term Stress Response - Mother Nature's Mechanism for Enhancing Protection and Performance under Conditions of Threat, Challenge, and Opportunity.” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5964013/.
“Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october.
Wellness Team. “7 Strange Things Stress Can Do to Your Body.” Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 7 Oct. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/7-strange-things-stress-can-body/.