If you live or work in a community with unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD or “fracking”), you may experience some of the environmental stressors related to the industry. Some issues that may cause stress include:
- Noise, light, and vibration that accompanies drilling
- Air or water quality changes
- Increased truck traffic
- Uncertainty over the health of you and your family
As with many environmental stressors, we are often powerless to avoid or change them. Interestingly, the powerlessness itself is also a stressor.
How Stress Affects You
Stress is more than just a bad feeling; stress causes physical changes in our bodies.
Stress stimulates the brain to release various hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which activate the body’s “fight or flight” response. Other physiological changes such as increased heart rate, faster breathing, and a surge of sugars in the blood also accompany the fight or flight response.
Researchers believe this response evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people to quickly take action in life-threatening situations. The sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses can help someone fight off a threat or flee to safety. However, this response can also cause the body to overreact to everyday stressors that are not life threatening. Unfortunately, chronic or long-term stress can weaken the immune system and lead to serious health problems including:
- Heart disease
- Others (see picture below)
Are You Stressed?
How do you know if your level of stress is a problem? If you are experiencing the following issues, you may be dealing with an unhealthy level of stress:
- Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Eating more or less than usual
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling short-tempered or irritable
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Worrying nearly all of the time
- Having problems concentrating or remembering things
- Struggling to make decisions
- Feeling more tired than usual
You may also experience physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches or backaches, and your blood pressure may be elevated. Still not sure? Click here to take a quiz and find out about the level of stress in your life.
CHILDREN and Stress
Children may also feel the effects of environmental stressors, though the way they communicate about it may be different. Your child or teen may not use the word “stress.” Be alert to words such as “worried,” “annoyed,” or “angry.” Children and teens may also express stress by saying negative things about themselves like “I’m stupid,” or “no one likes me.” Behavioral and physical changes from stress may differ as well.
In young children, these behavior changes may indicate stress:
- Acting moody or irritable
- Not participating in activities that they used to enjoy
- Saying that they are worried (about something or in general)
- Complaining more than usual about school
- Crying or being fearful
- Clinging to a parent or teacher
- Sleeping or eating too much or too little
For teens, these behavior changes may indicate stress:
- Avoiding parents
- Rejecting old friends for a new group
- Expressing hostility toward family
Physical symptoms such as a stomachache or headache may also indicate stress. If your child has a clean bill of health from his or her health care provider, consider that frequent physical complaints may signal stress. Read more about stress in children and teens here.
What You Can Do
- Keep in mind that you do not need to deal with stress on your own. If you or your child may be experiencing stress, talk with your health care provider or contact EHP. Your family may also find it helpful to work with a licensed mental health professional to help develop strategies to deal with overwhelming feelings of stress.
- Remember that even though you cannot eliminate all the stressors in your life, you can control your response to them. Negative reactions to stress include anger, overeating, and chemical dependency. Healthy ways to react to stress include being prepared for situations, getting enough sleep, deep breathing, and exercising. If you change your responses to stress, you can reduce the negative health consequences of stress. Click here and read our links in the Want to Learn More? section to read about healthy ways to respond to stress.
- Sign up for EHP’s Take Steps to Health, a health promotion program based on your readiness to change and delivered by prochange.com. If you are an adult interested in improving your health, register here to sign up for this free program.