Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Stress is a normal part of life that can either help us learn and grow or
can cause us significant problems.
Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for
action (to fight or flee).
If we don't take action, the stress response can create or worsen health problems.
Prolonged, uninterrupted, unexpected, and unmanageable stresses are the
most damaging types of stress.
Stress can be managed by seeking support from loved ones, regular exercise, meditation or other relaxation techniques, structured timeouts, and learning new coping strategies to create predictability in our lives.
Many behaviors that increase in times of stress and maladaptive ways of coping with stress -- drugs, pain medicines, alcohol,
smoking, and eating -- actually worsen the stress and can make us more reactive (sensitive) to
While there are promising treatments for stress, the management of stress
is mostly dependent on the ability and willingness of a person to make the changes
necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
What is stress?
Stress is simply a fact of nature -- forces from the inside or outside world affecting the individual. The individual responds to stress in ways that affect the individual as well as their environment. Because of the overabundance of stress in our modern lives, we usually think of stress as a negative experience, but from a biological point of view, stress can be a neutral, negative, or positive experience.
In general, stress is related to both external and internal factors. External factors include the physical environment, including your job, your relationships with others, your home, and all the situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations you're confronted with on a daily basis. Internal factors determine your body's ability to respond to, and deal with, the external stress-inducing factors. Internal factors which influence your ability to handle stress include your nutritional status, overall health and fitness levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of sleep and rest you get.
Stress has driven evolutionary change (the development and natural selection
of species over time). Thus, the species that adapted best to the causes of
stress (stressors) have survived and evolved into the plant and animal kingdoms
we now observe.
Picture of some of the areas of the body that are affected by stress
Man is the most adaptive creature on the planet because of the evolution of the human brain, especially the
part called the neo-cortex. This
adaptability is largely due to the changes and stressors that we have faced and
mastered. Therefore, we, unlike other animals, can live in any climate or
ecosystem, at various altitudes, and avoid the danger of predators. Moreover,
most recently, we have learned to live in the air, under the sea, and even in
space, where no living creatures that we know of have ever survived. So then,
what is so bad about stress?
Most people admit that when they're under stress, healthy
eating habits can be difficult to maintain. Whether eating to fill an emotional
need or grabbing fast food simply because there's no time to prepare something healthy, a
stressed-out lifestyle is rarely a healthy one.