Hidden dangers of stress exposed

Workshop promotes healthy life

By Roxana Amparo and Sean Austin, Staff Writers

When the heart starts pounding faster, muscles start to tighten, blood pressure rises, breaths quicken and senses become sharper causing the body to activate its “fight or flight” mode to protect itself.

Stress is defined as a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension to an individual when put in strenuous situations.

Hungarian endocrinologist János Hugo Bruno, also known as Hans Selye, conducted research and wrote in the British journal Nature in 1936 on the effects of stress on the body and developed the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which is a theory on how individuals respond to stress.

He found stress is experienced in three stages: alarm stage (“fight or flight”), resistance stage and exhaustion stage.

When reaching the exhaustion stage, the body is burned out and the immune system is not working properly causing the body’s ability to fight off disease to be eliminated. 

Ongoing stress may lead to high blood pressure and eventually to a heart attack.

Sociology major Sergio Corona, who is in his late 20s, said, “Last fall semester I went to the emergency room — my heart was pounding really hard. I couldn’t breathe right. The doctor said it was because of stress.”

Adults between the ages of 18 and 33 have the highest average levels of stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2012 study titled “Stress in America: Our Health at Risk.”

Contra Costa College Outreach Counselor Monica Nolasco said stress is a common trait for college students.

“Wearing many hats can lead to stress, such as working full time, being a student or a parent returning to school,” she said.

Middle College High School student Samuel Hernandez said he is stressing out over a research paper for his criminal justice class.

“I like to tell myself to get over that mentality of not understanding the assignment, so I read it over (and over) until it makes sense,” Hernandez said.

He said college students tend to overthink homework assignments, but taking the time to understand stressful situations they go through can help.

One of the ways the CCC community helps students deal with stress is through stress management workshops.

During one of these stress workshops, held on Sept. 22 in GE-104 and led by Nolasco, students tried meditation and the instant calming effects it can have on one’s body.

The ambiance in the room changed noticeably as attendees closed their eyes and took deep breaths while listening to the calm meditation beat during a five-minute video played at the beginning of the workshop.

The video was a binaural beat with constant dinging sound waves meant to relax the students during the workshop.

Nolasco said meditation is a tool used to combat stress.

She said using calming techniques like meditation can prevent serious harm to students. According to Selye’s DAS theory, when the body is in the “fight of flight” stage — the acute stage — the brain decides whether it will react in a “fight” or “flight” state.

Under stress, the three major stress hormones released by the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, include adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine.

Adrenaline increases heart rate and elevates blood pressure. Norepinephrine’s primary role is to rouse the body and create sharper senses, and cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream and enhances brain function.

Cortisol keeps the body’s sugar and blood pressure up to help keep it safe.

Over long periods of time, cortisol can damage and kill brain cells in the hippocampus — where the brain keeps the memory of personal experiences.

During Selye’s second stage — the chronic stage (resistance) — the body tries to adapt to its discomfort and the individual may suffer fatigue and sleeping problems.

Poor sleeping habits may result in becoming irritable and difficulty concentrating may arise.

If the third stage, exhaustion, is reached, stress may cause the body to shut down leading to illness in the form of a viral or bacterial infection.

Not everyone reaches all three stages. And if the period of stress is short-term the body can recover quicker than from long-term stress.

Nolasco said stress can take its toll on an individual’s body causing behavioral symptoms such as yawning, fiddling, twitching, nail biting, grinding teeth to serious health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease or obesity.

Nolasco said the two categories of stress include eustress and distress. Eustress is a good kind of stress, and distress is the negative stress caused by difficult life situations, she said.

Corona said knowing he has a 3.3 GPA instead of a 2.4 GPA stresses him out because he has to make sure he keeps it up.

“I am almost ready to transfer, and I know I have to maintain by GPA. It’s stressful,” he said.

Corona said he is student at CCC working seven days a week, while providing for his family. As an outlet to relieve stress, he said he meditates and likes going to concerts where he can mosh in “mosh pits,” a type of dance where participants push and shove each other.

Corona said after his health scare, he became aware of the consequences of stress and started to focus on the positives in his life.

“I recommend taking some time to meditate,” he said. “It helps me think about my problems, to focus and relax. It’s as if everything is resolved (after meditating).”

During her workshop Nolasco asked, “Can you imagine going to school and being a parent?”

Workshop attendee and early child health development major Susana Ponce said being a parent can be stressful at times.

“Before the (fall) semester started, I was worrying about my recent split up with my daughter’s father,” Ponce said. “I was really stressed out, but I knew I had to change for myself and for my 4-year-old daughter.”

She said attending the workshop helped her realize the risks that come from living a stressful life. To help maintain a healthy life, individuals should find positive people and stay away from those who bring negative energy.

Nolasco said, “Having a support system is very important.”

“Breathing — the way you breathe is very important to help reduce stress. Shallow breathing creates anxiety or panic attacks,” Nolasco said.

She said drinking water helps as well. “We are 75 percent water. Your body needs water.”