By Alecia Sexton
There’s an eye opening National Geographic documentary titled “Stress – the Portrait of a Killer” that everyone, especially college students who are juggling challenge after challenge, should watch. This documentary delves into subjects such as how stress affects the body’s ability to repair damaged cells, and how one’s position at work or school can affect their overall stress level.
The program points out that stress is proven to unravel chromosomes and shrink the brain by damaging and
killing cells. There’s one particular study explained in the film where scientists conducted experiments on African baboons and figured out how they physiologically respond to stress in a hierarchical society where certain monkeys were obviously dominant and others obviously inferior. Baboons that held a higher status – meaning those who were bigger, louder, and who gave orders to others – actually expressed less signs of stress and had lower levels of circulating stress hormones. Dominant monkeys had less body fat, more lean mass and less cardiovascular episodes, making their bodies overall healthier.
On the flip side, those who were submissive to ‘superiors’ were smaller in size, more fatty and less energetic, most likely due to their higher circulating levels of the stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline.
This study is interesting because it can be linked to our modern society, jobs, relationship and lives. The takeaway, however, should not be that we should all go and assert our dominance over others, but that we should strive to treat each others as equals so that our society as a whole can escape the debilitating effects of stress. This in turn would lead to a more efficient and less problemsome community.
The documentary also connected higher stress levels to lower cognitive abilities, particularly in the memory category. Lab mice who were more stressed ended up developing a smaller hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, further supporting the scientific evidence that stress is a debilitating condition.
The film mentioned that if a woman is pregnant during a highly stressful time, like during a famine, her fetus would be affected as well. Studies showed that babies that came from mothers who underwent chronic stress during pregnancy had a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, higher baseline cholesterol levels, and were more acutely sensitive to stress.
This data shows that stress can not only be a lifelong disease, but in certain cases it can have a ‘hereditary’ factor to it. Stress shortens telomeres (the things that protect our chromosomes from unravelling and DNA from mutating) and hinders the body’s ability to repair damaged cells, further intensifying the stress cycle.
Long story short, it’s in all of our best interests to do the best we can and make decisions that serve to decrease stress levels and to aid in the lowering of stress for loved ones. Life is short, and it’s important that we find what we love to do and do it, find who we love to be with and be with them and to submerge ourselves in situations that support happiness.
Editor’s Note: The Pioneer is not responsible for giving medical advice. Please refer to a medical professional for serious concerns regarding personal health.