So I had my biology final today. Pretty serious stuff but not as intense as the scene in the school library this morning. It looked as if everyone was playing an intense game of chess. I was hoping someone would yell out "Checkmate!" and it will all be over, but no, it is finals week. It is also known as the most stressful time for college students. The week when everything is due for students who did not do it already. It is the defining moment for scholars. Being a college student in New York City is tough, everything is around the corner except a library. Walked by a liquor store and got tempted but then realized that I would need lots of it when I am a doctor, so I will spare my liver the trouble for now. At least that is what everyone keeps telling me. We all experience some level of stress. It can be an “Oh no, I do not know what to wear today” or an “Oh no! I got my girlfriend pregnant!” Obviously, you cannot compare those two situations, but in both you experience stress.
Stress is known as the silent killer. It causes all types of health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Living in a fast-paced city such as New York can keep your body under endless stress. Having to run to catch the train and almost missing it regularly can be frustrating. Walking on the streets and constantly having tourist stop in front of you to take pictures can be annoying. All of these little things can add up and take a toll on your body. There is a whole process that occurs in the body when you feel stressed. This process is the result of the Sympathetic Nervous System. This system is responsible for the so-called “fight-or-flight” response. This reaction happens when you have a life or death situation, like almost getting hit by a car. The butterflies in your stomach, the knot in your throat, the heart beating fast and the rush of adrenaline are all caused by the Sympathetic Nervous system. Our bodies are hard-wired to react to stress in a certain way to protect us against threats from wild predators and other aggressors, but those risks are rare in these modern times. We still have stress, but our bodies do not recognize the difference between homework stress and the stress from running from a bear; our bodies react the same way regardless.
The Sympathetic Nervous system prepares the body for intense, energy consuming activities and induces our adrenal glands to secrete the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. Cortisol, an important hormone, also gets secreted during this process. Cortisol in this context plays the role of an enemy because it is the reason why we have so many health problems due to stress. When we continuously experience stress, our body secretes this hormone into our blood stream. When it reaches high levels, it can interfere with our learning and memory. It can lower our immune function and bone density; increase weight gain, cholesterol, blood pressure and cause heart disease.
A research study was conducted on stress amongst doctors, and the results were alarming. Approximately one-third of physicians’ report experiencing a burnout at any given point. Doctors are fifteen times more likely to burn out than professionals in any other type of work, and 45% of primary care physicians report that they would quit practicing if they had a choice. Physicians have 10-20 % higher divorce rate than the general population, and sadly there are about three hundred to four hundred physician suicide deaths each year.
There is no doubt that medical professionals and students deal with much stress, and this stress is, unfortunately, just part of the lifestyle. My curiosity about stress lead me to find some useful tips on how to better cope with it for my fellow students and medical professionals alike, and for anyone who needs help dealing with stress in general. First of all, specifically for students, I believe that a slow and steady approach to studying wins the race. By doing a little work every day, it eliminates the stress of cramming and leaves you feeling better prepared. It will also help the library look a little less like an insane asylum during finals week. Another vital tip that anyone can adhere to is to take care of yourself/do not overextend yourself: exercise regularly/eat right, get enough sleep, and take the time to play and have fun. It is also important for your mental health to maintain friendships and support systems; you can lean on these people during those stressful moments. Lastly, keep a sense of optimism and sense of humor; it helps makes things a little easier. I still have a chemistry final to study for, but I’m not too worried; this test is nothing compared to the financial debt I will acquire once I am done with medical school. (See, a sense of humor)
Written by Marco Vinicio Pacheco
Edited by the Team at Happy Feet.
Cox. E. (2016, April 12). Doctor Burnout, Stress and Depression: Not an Easy Fix. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-04-12/doctor-burnout-stress-and-depression-not-an-easy-fix
Bergland. C. (2013, January 22). Cortisol: Why “The stress hormone” Is public enemy No.1”. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1
N.A. (2016, April 21). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
“Sympathetic Nervous System.” (2015). In Campbell, N.A., Reece, J.B., Taylor, M.R., Simon, E.J., & Dickey, J. L. (2015). Biology: Concepts & Connections (8th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Education, Inc.