Schreiber Science

Harry Paul, Photo Editor

Walking down the halls of this school, it does not take long to figure out that stress is a major part of the ecosystem.  From the guidance office to students’ overstuffed lockers to the classrooms filled with testing anxiety, the stench of stress is overpowering.

Most experts agree that modern stress evolved from the “fight or flight” response that was programmed into human ancestors.

When humans lived in caves, the “fight or flight” response came from animals and other humans, not bombs and cancer.  We needed hormones to kick start our muscles and our brains to either stand our ground and take our chance in combat, or give us the energy to outrun the source of the danger.  Both of these required split second responses and immediate collaboration of all bodily systems.

When faced with a scantron instead of a raging rhinoceros, we would hope that our body would react with calm, focused intelligence—but we all know it will not.  Unfortunately, that scantron is interpreted by our brains and bodies to be the same as the raging rhinoceros of our forefathers, thus triggering a feeling of stress.

During a stressful situation hormone glands release cortisol.  Cortisol is a steroid, and its job, at the surface, seems simple.  It redistributes the digestion of glucose for energy to different parts of the body and suppresses the nervous system.

Here lies the heart of the problem with modern stress: in stressful situations, our bodies are programmed to move all the energy away from our brain and to our muscles as our feelings and senses are dampened.  This leaves us fear-stricken at our desk, unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

Chronic stress is another ballgame entirely, one that comes from existing in a prolonged state of intense stress that may cause physical impacts which include increases in visceral fat, sharp rises in blood pressure, and damage to the immune and nervous systems.

The hyper-secretion of cortisol results in a permanent suppression of the nervous system, which can lead to damage in the memory-storing parts of the brain, effectively making students worse in school.

Recent research shows that the influences of stress on your body is extremely variable dependent upon the way an individual thinks about stress.  Once we recognize that we are not in danger and are merely excited, the body pushes all of that extra energy to the brain, giving us more of an energy boost.

A recent double blind study conducted at Harvard University provided evidence that people who think stress is good have significantly lower incidences of health problems than those who think negatively of it.

The way that students view stress can make all the difference.  Do not tweet about how much you hate school because of the stress—use those surges in energy to push you forward for bigger and better things, whether on stage, in the classroom, or on the field.