Brrrr. Just bare word “stress” is stressful itself. But we have to look into this topic, as well as other negative elements of our daily life, because it significantly affects our performance. It should not surprise that one of the primary factors of lower brain efficiency is stressing too much. Tests show that when animals are exposed to constant stress, they lose the ability to learn and at some point something dramatic happens – animals start taking the stress for granted, get used to it, without even searching for other option. What happens to humans when we stress out?

To begin with, small dose of stress is essential and beneficial. It encourages us to mobilise our forces to solve the tasks, be creative and act here and now, instead of procrastination. It is also important to say that small dose is not an absolute measure – for some people jumping with the parachute from the plane is a regular and exciting activity, while for me it was one of the most stressful situations.

Given all these varieties of stresses, lets define stress as something beyond normal level, which includes activated physical response (cry, sweat), disliked activity (unpleasant job) and feeling of no control. In response to stress, pulse becomes higher, blood pressure raises and energy levels go up. We become ready to fight for survival, as our ancestors did when a danger came into present. Within seconds our brains are ready to solve the problem, muscles are prepared for running or wrestling. The problems start to mount when the stress is present on a continuous basis, hours after hours, days after days in work, where we have to complete the tasks no matter what, or home, where we have to live with the partner’s or parents’ unpleasant behaviour. Our bodies are not built to cope with so extensively long stressful situations, there is not enough time to recover.

While over short-term stress causes a release of adrenaline, which goes in line with an increase in blood circulation, over long-term, too much of adrenaline deregulate blood pressure, causing blockage in the arteries. If the arteries are blocked in the brain, it causes a stroke and if the arteries are blocked in the heart, it causes a heart attack. With the stress body sends white blood cells to help most vulnerable parts to heal, but over long-term, stress inflicts white blood cells, causing the immune system to break down. Stress hormones inflicts hippocampus, which is responsible for many learning functions and short-term memory. Stress hormones can disconnect neural networks, stop the birth of new neurons and even destroy the cells.

Among all the effects, stress is responsible for damaging the immune system. In one interesting research actors, who were acting scared, frightened and in other ways pretended to be miserable, had their immune systems weakened (measured by blood samples), while immune system was intact in the actors who worked with scripts of happy moods. Another research shows that stressed people are 3 times more likely to get a common cold disease.

Stress inhibits learning, cognitive performance, math and problem solving skills, language efficiency, affects memories, ability to concentrate and can cause the depression. In one study individuals with higher stress levels had 50% lower scores on cognitive tests.

The stress could catch us unprepared and the number of stressful situations is limitless. One of the high stress situations is a child’s birth in the family. In one study by the time baby was 1 years old, maternal depression rate doubled and satisfaction with marriage went down by 70%.

So what to do? Take it easy? Relax? Perhaps think less about stress in general? Just create joy? Find your own methods and places to address peak contitions, to steam out? Or perhaps read about happiness?