Question of the Week

August 25, 2003


It's back to school time for many, and that can be stressful.

"Feeling like there are too many pressures and demands on you? Losing sleep worrying about tests and schoolwork? Eating on the run because your schedule is just too busy? If you're feeling stressed out, you're not alone. Everyone experiences stress at times - adults, teens, and even kids. But what is stress?...Stress is a state of tension or pressure. Under conditions of increased stress, the human body responds with a built-in biochemical reaction, producing hormones that have specific physical effects....Stress is the body's way of rising to a challenge, preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. Working properly, the body's stress response maximizes a person's abilities under pressure."

It is sometimes difficult for the body's stress response to "work properly," especially when times of stress are not balanced with times of relaxation--times that allow the body a break from dealing with the mental and physical aspects of stress.

" * Stress can cause an upset or nervous stomach.
  * It can cause diarrhea or indigestion.
  * Stress can cause a headache or backache.
  * It can cause insomnia (being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep).
  * Stress can lead to eating changes. You may eat too much or too little.
  * Stress can lead to aggression and anger.
  * Stress can make you feel irritable, anxious, or frustrated.
  * Stress can often lead to crying spells.
  * Stress can lead to being withdrawn, or not wanting to be with people."

"Stress has significant effects on the brain, particularly on memory. The typical victim of severe stress suffers loss of concentration at work and at home and may become inefficient and accident-prone. In children, the physiologic responses to stress can clearly inhibit learning....Studies indicate that the immediate effect of acute stress impairs short-term memory, particularly verbal memory. In one interesting 2000 study, subjects took pills containing either cortisone (a stress hormone) or a placebo (a dummy pill). Those taking the cortisone performed significantly worse on memorization tests than those taking the placebo pill did. In an earlier study, when individuals were subjected to four days of stress, verbal memory was also impaired. Fortunately, in such cases, memory is restored after a period of relaxation."

With the new school year comes new opportunities to fill up your schedule.

"It's easy to join one too many exciting activities. Ask as many questions as possible before you join. Sit down with your school schedule, work schedule, and other activities and try to map out what's realistic. Are you taking a class this semester that requires extra studying time? Do you need to focus on grades? Does your bus only come once an hour by the time practice is over instead of every 15 minutes? Will you have time to eat, sleep, and relax? Everyone needs down time. If an activity adds lots of stress to your life, it's not for you."

Life is full of enough stress, as you look at what clubs to join, what sports to try, what hours to take at work, be sure to check for balance. Is that extra hour of practice going to be fun time with an activity you enjoy and maybe even a few friends, or is it going to be just one more things you have to do to make sure your college application looks "well-rounded"?

Questions of the Week:
How can you create a schedule that balances what you need to do for school and work with what you want to do for clubs and sports, while still managing to include time for friends, and time just for you? What can help you remember to schedule time to relax and refresh before the stress really builds? What things can you add to your schedule, or remove from your schedule, that will make this school year more enjoyable and more manageable? What aspects of your schedule can you control, and what can you do to best help you deal with the aspects that cause stress and are out of your control?

For more quick information about stress, including:
" * What is stress?
  * Who can get 'stressed out'?
  * What causes stress?
  * What does stress feel like?
  * How can I deal with my stress?
  * When should I call the doctor?"
You can visit:

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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