Fear and anxiety is a leading cause of discomfort and unhappy life. Robert Sapolsky, PhD, talks about stress as something that takes only three minutes of screaming for normal human beings. After that time, you are either over with it or it’s over.
For humans, stress doesn’t come from the fear of being eaten by another animal in the food chain but it comes from fellow humans eating your meals. Our brain is unlike any other in the animal kingdom. It’s a large brain – a brain that knows how to worry. There are tons of things that help this brain find reasons for getting worried. Some of them may include life-long mortgage and taking care of other people such as your kids and aging parents.
No wildebeest would understand these fears, but the perceived threats spark the same bodily survival responses that crocodile attacks do. And they last way longer than a croc’s lunchtime. But you can do something about stress. Search and destroy. Here’s where stress typically strikes and how to strike back.
Chronic secretion of the stress hormone cortisol damages memory centers, including the hippocampus. When dendrites in the hippocampus shrivel excessively, we can be caught in perpetual stress, triggering anxiety disorders, depression, and margaritas at lunchtime.
The Neck, Head, and Back
Pituitary, hypothalamic, and adrenal hormones flood the body, focusing your attention and alertness, sharpening vision, and preparing muscles to take action against a threat. When the perceived danger does not go away, you lose the ability to return to equilibrium.
Researchers from the University of Western Ontario may have found a biomarker to measure chronic stress. It’s hair. They took follicle samples from about 100 men, half of whom where hospitalized for heart attacks, and found that hair cortisol was highest in the heart patients. Since hair grows about 1 centimeter a month, researchers used 3-centimeter samples to provide a record of stress levels over the previous three months. Scientists believe the findings bolster the theory that chronic stress may contribute to heart attack just as acute stress does.
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