Stress In Our Early Years
We also know that we should minimize our stress by coping with it. Experts suggest that we should take a walk, avoid stressful circumstances if possible, and learn ways to relax. But somehow, in our daily living, we forget these things and absorb the stress like a dose of medicine for survival. The problem with this is that stress really does increase our risk for heart disease and others. Researchers are now giving us another reason to re-examine the stress in our lives. They report that stress in our early years can negatively impact our health in later years. How does this happen?
If we experience a life-altering experience, our bodies may respond by producing a cascade of hormones that will prepare us to protect ourselves. Depending on the individual or the circumstance, the brain physically changes so that it will continue releasing these hormones when we experience something that is not life-altering. In other words, when we suddenly lose a parent or run late for an appointment, our body responds in the same way.
Effects on Hormones
What are some of these hormones that are released? Epinephrine is made by the adrenal glands. This hormone can damage blood cells and trigger other substances that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Cortisol can damage the immune system and lower our resistance to cold viruses. Prolactin is released by the pituitary gland. This hormone can trigger swelling in our joints and play a role in rheumatoid arthritis. Other hormones associated with stress can reduce the body’s natural pain relievers after an injury thereby feeling the full brunt of pain. Excess serotonin is another hormone associated with stress. Too much of this hormone may be associated with increased violent behavior.1
Identifying stressors in our personal lives and among our family members is the first step toward making a difference. Once the stressors have been discovered, if changes can be made to avoid them, do so. Exercise and take the time to relax even if it is only two minutes at a time. Use the time to focus on things that are positive and good. Spend time in prayer and turn the stress over to God. Don’t carry the weight of circumstances that can’t be controlled.
The problems that stress us likely won’t go away, but the way we handle them can be changed.
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Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.
1. Stress. Medline Plus. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stress.html. Accessed December 20, 2011.
2. Carpi J. Stress: It’s worse than you think. 1996. Psychology Today.