By Eric Villanueva ’11
Everyone can name a few causes of stress, like school, clubs, sports, jobs and relationships, to name a few.
However, no one stops to ponder the most elemental question, a question that if answered could help teens to alleviate their stress: What actually happens in our body when we’re stressed out?
If we know how the stress reaction works in our bodies we can better handle our stress and hopefully avoid stress-induced chronic illnesses
To understand the chemical reactions and processes in our bodies that make our palms sweat or our tongues tie, we need to go on a foreign Safari.
In the grasslands of Africa, there is a cornucopia of life flying in the air, swimming in the rivers, dashing across the plains, reaching for the sky and digging underground. Out of this enormous food web, let’s pick one predator and one prey, the agile lioness and the stout water buffalo.
When the lioness, camouflaged by tall grasses, sneaks up on the unexpecting herd of water buffalo, the water buffalo have two instinct reactions: fight or flight. The water buffalo may either fight off their attackers, like in the Battle at Kruger on Youtube, or run away with their tails between their legs.
Interestingly enough, all mammals—both lions and water buffalo as well as human—have the same flight or fight reaction.
Though teens today may not be surviving day to day and their lives may not depend upon these responses like our early ancestors in Africa 250,000 years ago, teens still exhibit the fight or flight response in reaction to stress, according to Ms. Cheryl Lenox, AP Biology teacher and Science Department Chair.
“It’s great out in the wild, and every once in a while, when teens are stressed, they still have this response,” Mrs. Lenox said.
When a paper or test is fast approaching, teens begin to grow apprehensive and anxious and the brain, like a computer, processes these emotions and then sends out alarm signals to the rest of the body.
According to Ms. Lenox, signals from the brain travel to adrenal glands, above the kidneys, that secrete adrenaline and cortisol in response.
Adrenaline gives the body the oxygen it would need to fight or run by increasing blood pressure and heart rate.
Cortisol feeds the body more sugar, enhances the brain’s use of sugar and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Adrenaline and Cortisol together give one the energy to fight his essay or test, but long-term activation of these stress hormones comes at a price.
Ms. Lenox said long-term exposure to stress may cause hypertension, chronic depression and sleep deprivation as well as illness because stress suppresses the immune response.
“However, a little stress is good for motivation,” Ms. Lenox said.
And besides, what other reaction could give a person superhero strength to lift a car?