This is Sarah Long.
And this is Steve Ember with Science in the News, a VOA Special
English program about recent developments in science. Stress
is a condition of mental or emotional tension. Today, we tell
about the effects of stress on people¡¯s health.
Many people suffered mental and emotional problems after the
September Eleventh terrorist attacks in the United States last
year. Terrorism creates fear and fear often leads to severe
stress. Studies suggest that stress can reduce the body¡¯s
ability to fight disease and can lead to serious health problems.
Stress affects everybody every day. It is your body¡¯s
reaction 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 react to an urgent situation. Some people say it makes
them more productive at work and gives them more energy.
Too much stress, however, can be harmful. It may make an existing
health problem worse. Or it can lead to illness if a person
is at risk for the condition. For example, your body reacts
to stressful situations by raising your blood pressure and making
your heart work harder. This is especially dangerous is you
already have heart or artery 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 the stress.
Anything you see as a problem can cause stress. It can be caused
by everyday situations or by major problems. Stress results
when something causes your body to act as if it were under attack.
Sources of stress can be physical, such as injury or illness.
Or they can be mental, such as problems with your family, job,
health or finances. Many visits to doctors are for conditions
related to stress.
The tension of stress can interfere with sleep or cause uncontrollable
anger or sadness. A person may become more forgetful or find
it harder to concentrate. Losing one¡¯s sense of
humor is another sign of an unhealthy amount of stress.
Stress can lead to many other health problems if people try
to ease it by smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or by
eating more or less than normal.
Chronic stress lasts a long time or happens often. Chronic
stress causes the body to produce too much of the hormones cortisol
and adrenalin. Cortisol is called the ¡°worry¡±
hormone. It is produced when we are afraid. Adrenalin is known
as the ¡°fight or flight¡± hormone. It
prepares the body to react physically to a threat.
People under chronic stress produce too much of these hormones
for too long. Too much cortisol and adrenalin can result in
physical problems and even changes that lead to stress-related
Cortisol 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. Research suggests that people who are easily stressed
develop blockages in their arteries faster than other people
who are more calm. A recent study of women was carried out in
Japan. It found that women who reported high levels of stress
were more than two times as likely to die from stroke and heart
disease as other women.
High stress levels have been found to cause asthma attacks
that make it difficult to breathe. Stress is also linked to
mental conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Research also shows 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,
Experts say long-term stress also can weaken your resistance
to infections such as colds and influenza, as well as your ability
to recover from these diseases. Extended periods of stress are
also linked to headaches, difficulty sleeping, stomach problems
and skin problems.
Mental 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 the development
of 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.
The ¡°Type B¡± personality is a much
more calm person. These people are able to deal with all kinds
of situations more easily. As a result, they are less affected
Studies show 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.
Chronic stress is most common among people in the workplace,
especially among women. Scientists studying stress in the workplace
say many working women are under severe stress because of the
pressures of work, marriage and children. Some experts say that
pressure can cause a chemical imbalance in the brain that can
lead to depression. More than thirty-million American women
suffer from depression. These problems are linked to their stress-filled
lives and constant hurrying.
People who care for family members who are old or sick also
suffer from high levels of stress. Most caregivers in the United
States are women. Several studies have been done on people who
care for family members with Alzheimer¡¯s disease.
The studies showed that the caregivers had high cortisol levels
in their bodies. This greatly weakened their immune systems
For example, one study in the United States found that women
who cared for family members with Alzheimer¡¯s took
an average of nine days longer to heal a small wound. The researchers
found that the blood cells from the caregivers produced lower
amounts of substances that are important for healing and for
Experts say there are several ways to deal with stress. They
include deep breathing and a method of guided thought called
meditation. They 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
Experts 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 a recent
study has found that it helps protect against a decrease in
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 inability to identify and
express emotions to many health conditions. These include eating
disorders, fear disorders and high blood pressure. They say
expressing emotions to friends or family members or writing
down your feelings can help reduce stress. Experts say people
should try to accept or change stressful situations whenever
possible. Reducing stress may help you feel better and live
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written and produced by
Cynthia Kirk. This is Sarah Long.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for more news
about science in Special English on the Voice of America.
This Science Report is published courtesy