The Science of Stress

The Science of Stress

by Anita Larrow on May 18, 2022

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. For most of us this is normal life – as our jobs are demanding, our families are demanding and life in general is well…demanding. We are go go go from the moment we wake up until well pass sundown. If we give ourselves relaxation time it is often doing something that numbs us, i.e. watching Netflix or TikTok for hours on end. We finish this “relaxation time” feeling more wired, tired, depressed, and drained. Stress not only affects out mental health, but it also lowers our immune system [1]. 

With an acute stress the immune system will activate, however as the stress continues or becomes a chronic stress, the immune system is suppressed [1]. This is often why when you go on vacation the first full day there you may get sick. The body can “relax” and thus shifts the immune system response. The body can process everything that it has been suppressing to get you away from the stressful situation. And now your vacation is affected as you just need to sleep and rest. 

Stress affects our sleep and sleep affects our stress levels. Which is the chicken, and which is the egg? These two go hand in hand, without good sleep we have more negative effects (stress) the next day and the more negative affects we have a day the worse our sleep is at night [2]. These influences in our sleep also seems to be age depended. Thus, moms and dads your lack of sleep at night causes a stress response the next day. You reach for the coffee to help pick you up during the day and then need the alcohol at night to calm you down so you can go to sleep. The vicious cycle starts and continues day after day. 

Stress influences our health in many other ways and we will continue to dive into stress’s effects on the body – physically and emotionally.  I found this quote, by an unknown author, the other day as I was reflecting on the stress that has overtaken my life: “The mark of a successful man is one that has spent the entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.”   

[1] Vitlic A, Lord JM, Phillips AC. Stress, ageing and their influence on functional, cellular and molecular aspects of the immune system. Age (Dordr). 2014;36(3):9631. doi:10.1007/s11357-014-9631-6
[2] Blaxton JM, Bergeman CS, Whitehead BR, Braun ME, Payne JD. Relationships Among Nightly Sleep Quality, Daily Stress, and Daily Affect. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2017;72(3):363-372. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbv060

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