This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special
English. I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Bob Doughty. This week, we will tell
about stress and its effects on human health. Stress is a condition resulting from mental or emotional tension. Studies have shown it can reduce the body's
ability to fight disease and lead to serious health problems.
Almost two-thirds of American workers say they are
struggling or suffering because of stress from the current economic
recession. That information comes from a
recent opinion study by the Gallup Organization.
study found that almost half of American workers expressed concern about their
ability to provide for immediate family needs. Not surprisingly, many workers say they are eating or drinking too much,
and smoking more as they attempt to deal with money issues.
affects everybody, every day. Stress is how
your body reacts to physical, chemical, emotional or environmental
influences. Some stress is unavoidable
and may even be good for us. Stress can
keep our bodies and minds strong. It
gives us the push we need to deal with an urgent situation.
But too much stress can be harmful. It may make an existing health problem worse. Or it can lead to sickness if a person is at
risk for the condition.
example, your body reacts to stressful situations by raising your blood
pressure and making your heart work harder. This is dangerous if you already have heart disease or high blood
pressure. Stress is more likely to be
harmful if you feel helpless to deal with the problem or situation that causes
Anything you see as a problem can cause stress. It can result from everyday situations or major
problems. Stress results when something
causes your body to act as if it were being attacked.
Causes of stress can be physical, such as injury or
disease. Or they can be mental, such as
problems involving your family, job, health or finances. Many visits to doctors are for conditions
linked to stress.
The tension of stress can interfere with sleep or cause
anger or sadness. A person may become
more forgetful or find it harder to think clearly. Losing one's sense of humor is another sign
of an unhealthy amount of stress.
can lead to other problems if people attempt to ease it by taking drugs, smoking,
drinking alcohol or by eating more or less than normal.
lasts a long time or happens often. Chronic stress causes the body to produce too much of two hormones,
cortisol and adrenalin. Cortisol is
called the "worry" hormone. It is
produced when we are afraid. Adrenalin
prepares the body to react physically to a threat.
from chronic stress produce too much of these hormones for too long. Too much cortisol and adrenalin can result in
physical problems and changes that lead to stress-related sickness.
provides high levels of energy during important periods. However, scientists have become concerned
about the hormone's long-term effects on our health. Evidence shows that extended periods of
cortisol in the body weakens bones, damages nerve cells in the brain and
weakens the body's defense system against disease. This makes it easier to get viral and
Chronic stress has been linked to
high blood pressure and heart disease. Studies suggest that people who are easily stressed develop blockages in
blood passageways faster than other people.
High stress levels have
been found to cause asthma attacks that make it difficult to breathe. Stress is also linked to mental conditions
like depression and anxiety disorders. Extended periods of stress have been linked to headaches, difficulty
sleeping, stomach problems and skin disorders.
also show that chronic stress reduces the levels of the hormone estrogen in
women. This might put some women at
greater risk for heart disease or the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
A recent study found that emotional
stress may put some older adults at risk of falls and broken bones. Swedish researchers studied one hundred
thirty-seven older adults who suffered bone fractures after falling. The patients were questioned at two hospitals.
study found that the patients' risk of suffering a fall was higher for up to
one hour after emotional stress. Sadness
increased the risk nearly six percent compared to periods with no such
feelings. For anger, there was an
increased risk of more than twelve percent.
And, stress increased the risk of falling by about twenty percent.
and health experts believe personality is an important part in how we
experience stress. Personality is the
way a person acts, feels and thinks.
Many things influence a person's personality, including genetics and
Some people, for example, are aggressive and always in
a hurry. They often become angry when
things do not happen the way they planned. They are called Type A personalities. Studies suggest that these people often get stress-related illnesses.
B personality is calmer. These people
are able to deal with all kinds of situations more easily. As a result, they are less affected by
Studies have shown that men and women deal with stress
differently. Women usually have stronger
social support systems to help them in times of trouble. These social supports may help explain why many
women seem to be better able to deal with stress than men are. However, experts say women are three times
more likely to develop depression in reaction to the stress in their lives.
American writer John Gray became
famous for his book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." The book explored the effect of biological
differences between men and women on their personal relationships.
Mister Gray says one major difference is the way people
react to the hormone testosterone. The body
releases this hormone to deal with stressful situations. Mister Gray says studies have linked a rise
in testosterone levels to reduced stress in men. But high testosterone levels have no such
effect on women.
notes that men and women have opposite ways of dealing with stress. For a man, the best way is to rest and forget
about daily problems. But a woman
suffering from stress needs to talk about her problems. Talking leads to the release of the brain
hormone oxytocin, which lowers her stress levels.
Experts say there are several ways to
deal with stress. They include deep
breathing and a method of guided thought called meditation.
also include exercise, eating healthy foods, getting enough rest and balancing
the time spent working and playing.
Doctors say people should limit the amounts of alcohol and caffeine in
their diets. People who have many drinks
with caffeine, like coffee, experience more stress and produce more stress
say exercise is one of the most effective stress-reduction measures. Running, walking or playing sports causes
physical changes that make you feel better.
Exercise also improves the body's defense system against disease. And studies have found that it helps protect
against a decrease in mental ability.
Doctors say deep, slow breathing is also helpful. And many medical studies have shown that
clearing the mind through quiet meditation helps you become calm. This causes lower blood pressure, reduced
muscle tension and decreased heart rate.
Experts also say
keeping stress to yourself can make problems worse. Researchers have linked the failure to
identify and express emotions to many health conditions. These include eating
disorders, fear disorders and high blood pressure.
say expressing emotions to friends or family members or writing down your
feelings can help reduce stress. Experts
say people should attempt to accept or change stressful situations whenever
Orloff is a mental health expert at the University of California at Los
Angeles. She wrote a book called
"Emotional Freedom" that deals directly with Americans' economic fears. Doctor Orloff advises workers not to worry
about things they cannot control. Instead,
she urges them to think about the one thing that most concerns them, and to
deal with it.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by George Grow. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week
for more news about science in VOA Special English.