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  • In a busy world, with unending work and responsibilities piling up, stress can get to the best of us.

  • But how bad is it for you, really? Can stress actually kill you?

  • From a biological perspective, stress makes perfect sense. If you're about to get chomped

  • on by a bear, your stress hormones better kick your butt into gear. But it turns out

  • that your mortgage, unemployment and looming exam all trigger the same stress response

  • in your body. And unlike most animals, which eventually experience a major decrease in

  • these hormones, humans can't seem to find the off switch! Even though it's not life

  • and death, our psychological woes consistently bath our bodies in these hormones, making

  • our heart pound, muscles tense and stomach turn.

  • In Japan, they have the term Karoshi, which literally translates to 'death from overwork'.

  • In what is now deemed an overworking epidemic, these individuals who are seemingly healthy

  • and in their prime, suddenly die. After being officially recognized and documented in Japan,

  • these sudden heart attacks and strokes were quickly linked to stress. But, how does stress

  • cause this?

  • Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones, which helps divert energy to where you need

  • it and away from nonessential functions of the body. But with chronic stress exposure,

  • problems arise: The immune system shuts down, inflammation is inhibited, white blood cells

  • are reduced, and susceptibility to disease increases. Some evidence also suggests that

  • prolonged stress may be involved in the development of cancer.

  • When looking at the arteries of macaque monkeys, those under significant stress have more clogged

  • arteries. This prevents blood from getting to the heart quickly during stress, and can

  • ultimately lead to heart attacks.

  • The brain also takes a toll; when looking at mice exposed to stress, we see dramatically

  • smaller brain cells, with fewer branch extensions than normal mice. This is particularly prevalent

  • in the area associated with memory and learning. Which may stir up some memories for you of

  • those wonderful all night study sessions; the acute stress and sleep deprivation can

  • make it increasingly difficult to remember things we want to.

  • Perhaps the most telling story is in our DNA. We contain something called telomeres on the

  • ends of our chromosomes, which decrease in size with age. Our video on "Aging", here,

  • explains this process. Eventually, the telomeres run out, at which point the cell stops duplicating

  • and dies. So telomeres are directly related to aging and length of life. And it turns

  • out, stress may actually accelerate the shortening of these telomeres.

  • But not all hope is lost for the perpetually stressed. Another hormone, oxytocin, has been

  • shown to reduce this stress response. It helps your blood vessels relax, and even regenerates

  • the heart from stress related damage. So how do we get more Oxytocin? It's sometimes dubbed

  • the 'cuddle hormone', because it's released during positive social interactions and while

  • caring for others. People who spend more time with others create a buffer or resilience

  • to stress.

  • So when life gets the best of you, just remember, you don't have to go it alone. Spend some

  • time with those you love - it may just save your life!

  • Got a burning question you want answered? Ask it in the comments, or on Facebook and

  • twitter. And if you want the inside scoop on upcoming episode ideas and behind the scenes

  • check out our personal Instagram and twitter handles, and subscribe for more weekly science

  • videos.

In a busy world, with unending work and responsibilities piling up, stress can get to the best of us.

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