Manage Your Stress Chapter 7

Chronic Stress

When unavoidable, relentless stress pervades your life, the health risks are wide-ranging and serious. Those who serve as caregivers to disabled family member, work in high-stress professions or experience prolonged traumatic events are at greatest risk. The physical evidence of stress appears in their cardiovascular system, brain, nerves, immune response, and psychological health. The upcoming chapters explore the details of these effects.

Some of us have natural coping instincts that help us weather stress with fewer ill effects. Read below to see how factors such as our gender, age, and genes can help us deal with stress.


Gender Matters

Women have a tendency to respond to stress by caring for children, reaching out to other women, and engaging in other community forming behaviors. Men are less likely to respond in this way, which is not to say that men are incapable of tending and befriending in the face of stress. The hormonal equation, however, is not in men's favor for developing this coping mechanism. They experience a testosterone surge as part of the parasympathetic response to stressors, and this tends to override the “love” hormone oxytocin which (along with estrogen) is believed to account for women's nurturing response in times of stress. Similarly, some women will respond to stressors with more of a fight-or-flight reaction. Our inherent hormone biochemistry differs from person to person, and humans have a range of natural responses to stress.


Youth Helps

Being young seems to help us recover from any challenge more easily, and stress is no exception. As the images of pyramidal neurons from the brain show, younger people can recover their neuronal connections after dendrites retract after stressful events. The cumulative damage in an older brain is more likely to be permanent. READ MORE

However, children are not impervious to stress. If you have children, there are ways to provide a lower-stress environment for them, and teach them coping strategies. Some to try:

  • Don't allow kids to skip meals. The effects of stress are exacerbated by poor nutrition.

  • Exercise! It helps everyone relieve stress. If your family exercises together, it could be an important, stabilizing factor in your family life.

  • Set clear expectations and be consistent about discipline. Feeling that a punishment could come out of nowhere or that the rules aren't clear can be very confusing and stressful.

  • Hug and touch your kids. Older kids may resist, but find a way to show your support and love physically. It's a great stress reliever.

  • Listen to your child's account of his or her day with as much patience as possible. No need to respond, unless the child asks you a question. Simply listen.

  • Don't be a “mistake cop.” Teach kids that everyone makes mistakes, including you. Be clear that everyone should try his or her best to do well in school and other pursuits, but that perfection is unattainable, and it's not expected in your family.



Your Genes Matter, Too

Decades ago, cardiologists identified the stress-prone “type A” personality. These people are constantly called out for their intensely competitive, aggressive, and impatient nature. However, the same cardiologists also identified the less-discussed “type B” personality. This group is the exact opposite of the type As—even-keeled, resilient, and quick to recover from stress. READ MORE

More recent studies have identified another inherited trait, the levels of a substance called neuropeptide Y (NPY), as a determining factor in a person's ability to handle stress. NPY is a signaling molecule that alters emotional responses. Researchers took images of subjects' brains as they looked at photos of threatening facial expressions. Those who had low levels of NPY showed greater changes in the brain regions involved in processing emotions. Those with higher levels did not show such activity, nor other signs of anxiety. The low-NPY subjects also had a lower tolerance of physical pain, suggesting that NPY might have wide-ranging effects on our ability to process and recover from adversity. LESS

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.