Stress in our lives


Stress is often experienced during everyday events. Simply feeling a loss of control or the inability to deal with daily pressures can provoke this mental or emotional strain. Triggers can include getting stuck in traffic, pressure at work, receiving a large credit card bill, and having an argument with a loved one or colleague.

Not everyone becomes stressed out by the same things. Many scientists agree that stress does not merely happen to someone, but is in fact governed by how a person chooses to react to a situation. 1 Research shows that stress is critically tied to negative thoughts. By detaching yourself from your thoughts and acknowledging that, "thoughts are not facts", you can prevent the escalation of negative thoughts. 2 By noticing the thoughts going through your mind, you can reduce your overall stress load as well as your risk of disease and even catching the common cold.3

Importantly, an increasing number of medical professionals are pointing to daily stressors as being responsible for a significant number of health issues. One notable statistic from Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier of the University of Arizona states that between 75 and 90 per cent of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. 4


During the stress response, hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and cortisol, along with other substances, are released into the body, diverting blood away from the internal organs and into the muscles. This response is called the “fight or flight” response, where the body is primed to deal with whatever threat it is facing. While the response may have evolved in the face of transient threats (eg. being chased by a massive bear), many individuals undergo acute stress responses chronically. The heart begins beating faster and stored sugars and fats are consumed, which can lead to heart disease as well as exhaustion. 1 5 6

A person’s hunger and sex drive are suppressed as well, so that the brain may focus intently on the perceived threat. The body’s immune system also becomes inhibited in response to some of the hormones secreted, as a means of conserving energy. 1 5

During stressful events, there is also an increase in the level of a hormone group called glucocorticoids (including cortisol), which are responsible for aging many of the body’s systems. . When stress persists over an extended period of time, these hormones may actually begin to damage neurons and impair memory and concentration. Fortunately, when the stressful event ends, the neurons start to regenerate.


The body’s stress reaction is less useful and potentially harmful when common, everyday stressors become chronic and unresolved. While the “fight or flight” response would have been useful in the past, when stressors were more likely to be immediate, physical threats, like an aggressive animal, the threats we face now are very different. Many scientists say the response isn’t appropriate for coping with modern day stressors that won’t kill you, such as public speaking or managing finances. As a result, stress is now experienced over longer durations and the same body chemicals that may initially help human beings to cope are causing their health to become disordered. 1 5

For example, chronically high levels of epinephrine (adrenalin) raise blood pressure and damage the heart. Elevated amounts of the hormone specifically cause the formation of fatty nutrients that thicken blood and make it more susceptible to clotting. Consequently, blood vessels become clogged and blood flow decreases, leading to a condition called atherosclerosis. 1 5

Consistently high levels of cortisol also destroy tissue and are linked to the development of intestinal ulcers and bone thinning. Moreover, large amounts of the chemical inhibit the activity of inflammatory cells involved in healing, slowing down the body’s recovery from illness or injury. 1 5

These are just some examples of how stress influences your body and health [link to 2nd stress article]. The good news is that it is possible to develop strategies and learn practices to cope with stress, reduce the negative effects of stress, and even to reduce the amount of stress you experience.

Continue reading for more information on how to manage stress.

Mitchell, Tamara, and Sally Longyear, ed. Stress: Part 1 The Physiology of Stress. Working Well Ergonomics Information Website. 6 May 2013.
Baer, Ruth A. "Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review." Clinical psychology: Science and practice 10.2 (2003): 125-143.
Sapolsky, Robert M. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. 3rd ed. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2004.
Heart & Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Coping with Stress. Ottawa: Canadian Mental Health Association, 2009.

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Written in conjunction with Richard Tytus, MD

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