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Stress is commonly known as the human body’s reaction towards a change in its physiological balance. This change usually requires an emotional, mental or physical correction which is meant to act as the response determined by the stressful factor. The illness caused by the increased amount of stress was known and thoroughly discussed from ancient times, Hippocrates being the one who started to analyze the effects and disadvantages of this factor. On the other hand, today’s technology and medical expertise show that there is more to stress than meets the eye, thus bring new ideas regarding the effects of stress on the human body. These being said, is it correct to automatically assume that stress is harmful for an organism?
There have been conducted countless researches and studies in order to find a correct answer to that question and the results are divided between opinions. Nonetheless, one aspect is certain: stress is quite beneficial for the body, as long as the stress level does not exceed a certain limit. The main physiological factor that scientists take into consideration is the boosting effect stress has on the adrenaline secreting cells, stimulating them to create and throw into circulation high amounts of the hormone. According to them, adrenaline is very good for the body as long as its level does not exceed a certain value. However, keeping the adrenaline level and thereby the stress level at a safe limit can be quite hard to accomplish.
When Is Stress Bad for the Body?
Although scientists have proven the fact that stress is beneficial for the body, provided certain limits are not exceeded, once a person is exposed to chronic stress, its effects on the organism change dramatically. This hypothesis is actually the one which stays at the base of the one regarding “good” stress, as people complain more about the prolonged exposure to stress rather than its positive effects. Even from ancient times, stress was known as a great factor for many conditions such as heart attacks, cancer, ulcers and chronic pancreatitis.
In a study conducted by inquiring a series of women who work and live in stressful environments, Paul Rosch, the president of the American Institute of Stress and professor of medicine at the New York Medical College Valhalla describes how stress is harmful to people. In his opinion, “studies of occupational stress make it clear that it is those who are bossed, rather than those who do the bossing who suffer more from work-related illness” (Rosch). In addition, the professor said that working in a stressful environment determined women to take up drinking and smoking, thus adding to the harmful effects of stress. Come to think of it, stress is only one factor that can lead to diseases.
However, is it fair to compare the effects of chronic stress on a woman, who is a human being protected by hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, to those on any other person? What is more, the entire study focuses on the effects of stress “taken” in large quantities, which only increases the truthfulness of the theory that a small amount of stress can be beneficial. In other words, it is absolutely true that the chronic exposure to stressful events and situations is an important factor in the etiology of many chronic and potentially life threatening diseases. Nevertheless, if one knows how to relax and to overcome stress intelligently, one can only benefit from its advantages.
How Can Stress Increase a Person’s Performance and Quality of Life?
When talking about stress, many are inclined to believe that it can only harm the body and be of no help in rest. Dr. Suzanne Segerstorm and Dr. Gregory Miller disagree with this popular belief and bring very pertinent facts to sustain their findings. In their article on the benefits of stress, they describe the “fight or flight” phenomenon, an event that takes place in the body when a stressful situation occurs. The response of this phenomenon has proven itself to be very useful, as it boosts the “body’s natural front-line defense against infections from traumas such as bites and scrapes” (Segerstorm, Miller, 2004). In addition, small amounts of stress are known to increase the self-defense capacity of the immune system. The secret to this effect is that a person is overwhelmed with relief after overcoming a stressful situation, which leads to the secretion of hormones that ease the activity of the immune system. According to Dr. Segerstorm, this is a key element to the correct dosage of stress and the observation of its benefic effects.
In the attempt to demonstrate the fact that stress is not as bad as people tend to believe, Korte and his expert associates created an essay on the Darwinian concept of stress and how allostasis is a vital factor in this theory. They have experimented on animals and came to several interesting conclusions which are meant to reveal the truth about stress. It appears that there is a link between stress and the noradrenergic system which creates a feed-forward loop and determines the increase in the secretion of this hormone. The main effect is the “heightened awareness of possible threats in the environment” (Korte, et al., 2005, p.20). This is actually the hypothesis based upon the survival of the human over the years in the prehistoric period when person needed to hunt in order to live. Due to the stressful situations he was put through, his hunting skills and performance increased and his ability to perceive threats was clearly boosted. This leads to the idea that stress is quite helpful when the problem is survival of the fittest.
When it comes to quantifying the benefits of stress, there are certain areas that are directly affected by any inconvenient situation. In his book on the link between stress and human performance, Staal describes time pressure to be one of the most relevant stressful situations with beneficial results upon the performance of a person. According to him, if the mismatch between the times remaining and the time needed can be accurately corrected, then stress is beneficial and can help a person achieve the task in a due time. Moreover, Staal points out that “the underlying stressor that determines operator performance, error production, and judgments of workload is time pressure.” (Staal, 2004, p. 15)
To add more reason to the theory that stress increases the productivity of a person and his success rate, Santha Subbulaxmi conducted a study in which she described the manner in which productivity and stress levels vary. She states that “It offers potential gain, for example, the superior performance that an ophthalmologist gives during a complicated surgery. Such individuals often use stress positively to rise to the occasion and perform to their maximum. And hence the productivity rises” (Subbulaxmi, 2002, p. 1). This example shows just how important it is to understand that some stressful situations can bring many benefits whereas the prolonged exposure to stress can determine serious illnesses.
To come to a conclusion, stress has certain advantages upon the human body that should be kept in mine by anyone who wants to lead a healthy life. As a matter of fact, contrary to the popular belief, a small amount of disruption into the daily balance is quite beneficial for the heart and brain, increasing the heart’s resistance and the manner in which the nervous impulses are transmitted into and out of the brain. With these aspects in mind, it is safe to declare that “good” stress is the one responsible for most of the positive reactions a person experiences during a lifetime. This is the reason why experts encourage people to engage into activities that stimulate the stressful receptors, as long as this stimulation is not prolonged or brutal.