Volume 5 Issue 2

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Page 36 of 79 / / Abby's Magazine - Volume 5 Issue 2 | Page 37 Chronic ac va on of this survival mechanism impairs health. For two years in a row, the annual stress survey commissioned by the American Psychological Associa on has found that about 25% of Americans are experiencing high levels of stress (ra ng their stress level as 8 or more on a 10-point scale), while another 50% report moderate levels of stress (a score of 4 to 7). Perhaps not surprising, given con nuing economic instability in this country and abroad, concerns about money, work, and the economy rank as the top sources of stress for Americans. Stress is unpleasant, even when it is transient. A stressful situa on — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear. This combina on of reac ons to stress is also known as the "fight-or-flight" response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situa ons. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficul es. Over the years, researchers have learned not only how and why these reac ons occur, but have also gained insight into the long-term effects stress has on physical and psychological health. Over me, repeated ac va on of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the forma on of artery- clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addic on. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise). Sounding the alarm The stress response begins in the brain (see illustra on). When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the informa on to the UNDERSTANDING the RESPONSE RESPONSE

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