[MENTAL HEALTH]Head off acute stress before it can damage your healthMost people face at least a couple of shocking moments in their life, such as a sudden death in the family, a business failure or even an unexpected natural disaster. When a person is in shock, the body responds in various ways such as a sudden increase in blood pressure, a feeling of nausea and stomachaches, or sometimes chest pains. Some people react by retreating to their beds and stopping eating. They are suffering from acute stress and should seek treatment.
Stress is a resultant state of mind and body following the secretion of the so-called stress hormones, adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, in response to a perceived sense of danger. At that time, the autonomic nervous system in our body, which controls automatic functions such as breathing and heart rate, is stimulated. The controlling “trunk” sympathetic nerve is stimulated, and the heart and blood vessels, lungs, skin and digestive organs react immediately, increasing the heart rate and therefore blood pressure, and body temperature, and decreasing digestive activity. The type of reaction varies from person to person and the perceived intensity and duration of the stress inducing experience.
“Those who pursue perfection, or have fixed ways of thinking, or view everything pessimistically or negatively, or are workaholics, are highly likely to be affected by diseases induced by acute stress,” said Kwon Jun-soo, a professor at the neuropsychiatry department of Seoul National University Hospital.
Cardiovascular organs suffer direct hits from acute stress. “The systolic blood pressure of an ordinary person, whose blood pressure is normally at 120/80mmHg, could surge to over 200mmHg by acute stress, and could cause a stroke or heart attack,” said Chung Nam-sik, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Severance Hospital.
Reactions are more serious in senior citizens or those who have a cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, heart disease or an irregular pulse. These people are highly likely to suffer heart failure ― also if a person already has arterial sclerosis (narrowing of the blood vessels), the high-blood pressue that results from stress could knock material off the insides of vessel walls, blocking the blood supply to the heart or brain.
Digestive activity also decreases. “With acute stress, the secretion of mucus that protects the stomach drops, and can facilitate the formation of multiple ulcers,” said Kim Na-young, a professor at the internal medicine department of Seoul National University Hospital in Bundang. If the sympathetic nerve is stimulated, the contracting movements (peristalsis) of the intestines decrease, mimicking symptoms of hypersensitive colitis including feeling bloated, loss of appetite and serious constipation or diarrhea.
Acute stress also increases the secretion of serotonin and dopamine, hormones that affect behavior, which can lead to abnormal, impulsive activity and aggressiveness. Victims of this also lack concentration, become forgetful and find it difficult to sleep, leading them to become emotionally unstable, depressed or angry and violent.
Unlike people who are suffering from chronic stress, those afflicted with acute stress should take emergency measures. They should take medicine to control their blood pressure and seek advice on nutritional changes they may have to make. Those with emotional problems need to seek medical advice regarding any medication they should take to relieve symptoms. Also, psychological counseling should be sought in order to receive help in accepting the altered situation.
by Hwang Se-hee