4/1/2022 - Technology and Innovation

What is stress and how can we fight

By Tomás Urdaniz

What is stress and how can we fight

The conflicts of Europe and Russia have been attentive, expecting what will happen, hoping that news will return to the usual schedule of minor crimes, thefts, inflation and politics. War concerns us not only of the human, but also because we will soon see how impacts on different economic areas (actions, cryptocurrencies, exports, etc.).

But there is no need to talk about wars to have to worry about, just listen to the alarm clock early in the morning to feel that pressure on the chest and the head we call stress

Stress is a complex picture, difficult to define. The components are too much and also because we live constantly, in fact, no one can live without stress, and later we will see why.

Stress as we know it is a chronic and progressive process that depends on an external pressure that leads us to produce changes within the organism in adaptive form. Although we can talk a lot about these internal changes in the body, the most important thing is that we understand that stress as we know it depends on a hormone called cortisol.

The hormone of life

Far from thinking like a “mala” or “good” hormone, we have to understand that it is a vital component for our body. It is involved in many valuable functions for the energetic functioning of the body, for example, is the most important hormone to raise the medium-term sugar levels when we do not eat food for a few hours (i.e. saves us from suffering a hypoglycemic coma every day).

It is also one of the fundamental hormones (along with aldosterone) for hydroelectrolytic maintenance, saving us from suffering heart infarctions (by potassium changes) or serious neurological problems (by sodium changes). As a last example, the correct immune response against an infectious process is partly due to cortisol, which maintains this immune response in an optimal range, avoiding excessive response and autoimmune damage or unmeasured fever.

Anyway, cortisol actually fulfills many functions in the body, but over all things, it also has a particular way of acting in the brain that distinguishes it practically from all hormones in the body.

Stress, do you have limits?

It is one of the only hormones that can be insensitive to the feedback regulation system. What does that mean? Basically, what it means is that cortisol has no limits.

Imagine a car we appreciate the accelerator, but the board does not detect the speed increase and the engine does not make noise until it reaches its limit and explodes. If we are careful, we can recognize signs, for example look at the window and see that the objects go very fast, we want to recognize signs we can take in coscience and lower the speed.

With stress passes something similar. Our body can respond to the requirement by increasing the production of cortisol almost ad eternum, eliminating the speed limiter, and sometimes sends signals on the level of stress, but it must be conscious to realize to them

What good is stress not to have limits? Well we go back to the point that stress is something positive for our body, we want to stress, is responsible for getting out of bed when the alarm sounds, or the one responsible for being able to hold up more hours to finish that last job.

The famous phrase “best function under pressure” is real. It is scientifically proven that a few days before an important date (projects, examinations, events) we become more efficient than ever. And along with this it is also real that immediately past this event we start to fail (as when you come out of surrender and have forgotten everything you studied). All this is due smoothly and ly to cortisol.

In short, if we live without cortisol (by ende, without stress), the lightest thing that would happen is that we would live without motivation, because nothing would represent a challenge or a challenge. Besides, there is a list of reasons why without cortisol we die in minutes.

In order for this not to happen, evolution led us to have a system in which we gradually increase the level of this hormone, stress can tolerate and even become a little addicted to it. In this situation the body understands that it has to take its capabilities a little further than normal to comprise the requirements

The main problem is that we now have no brakes. The body does not have a simple way to stop stress, until one day the person suffers an anxiety crisis or some organic problem as it can be arterial hypertension, diabetes, recurrent infections, etc. These are the advanced signs that stress has gone too far, when we cannot see the small previous signs.

Technology applied to monitor stress

Do we have to get to these points to realize that we are very stressed? Obviously not, we should all know our alarm guidelines and the natural tools we have to control stress like: exercise, meditate, psychotherapy, etc.

There are many natural ways to lower the stress level, some of them as effective as a medicine prescribed by a doctor. What happens is that all of them require an active effort of the person, while stress accumulates slowly and automatically.

Most of us should know that the simplest (if well is not the most powerful) way to lower stress is by making deep breaths. What happens is that, in general, when we realize that we need to breathe, we are already very stressed. Based on this, I think it would be important to invent a device that can measure stress levels, giving a warning to the person to make their valuable deep breaths. Some watchmakers (Apple, Samsung, etc.) already have functions to measure stress levels, but are based on unreliable indirect methods such as heart rate measurement.

The good news is that Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory (NANOLAB) has developed an adhesive that detects cortisol through sweat. The idea arises from a test that already exists and is used in hospitals in which cortisol levels are analyzed in saliva, but the invention of NANOLAB claims to be better because the levels of this hormone are more constant in sweat.

Although massive sales have not yet been approved, it has a promising future to be the first portable device that can be used by the population for stress control at all times.

We can take these ideas to a higher level and think of a smarter device that informs us about how much stress we need to fulfill the task we are doing, and also let us know if we are out of stress to properly comply with that. And with this accurate and personalized information, we can fulfill much better with our requirements.

So I wonder, besides these devices that are limited to giving information, is it possible to control stress artificially? That is, manipulate the levels directly. It is very complicated to think these things asique the easiest is to go to the base, focus on the simple, to see if from here we can anticipate what comes in the future.

To control the stress I have to control the amount (concentration) of cortisol, by ende I have 2 options:

  1. I can control (^↓) your production or
  2. I can control (^↓) your elimination.

Both options are extremely difficult but not impossible and here we review how these situations could occur.

Both synthesis and elimination of cortisol ultimately depend on proteins (enzymes) that catalyze necessary reactions to reach a compound. The enzyme does not think, is not intelligent, only catalyzes reactions to the speed that can in this system, does not stop or accelerate (at least by your own account). Based on this, we might think that we can create “smart enzymes” in laboratories that have the ability to sensify information and decide for themselves whether it is time to increase or decrease synthesis or elimination, according to what the organism needs... a little unheaded but not impossible.

I would like to think that in the future we will have devices that keep precise levels of stress, even if they increase and decrease to measure for certain situations. It happens to me that we would no longer use the cellular alarm to awaken us, because the body can automatically increase the levels of this hormone, enough to wake us up and start the day. Improving sleep quality, attention, ensuring a good time of rest, fighting autoimmune diseases and avoiding organ rejection are just some of the benefits we can get when we can develop once and for all a device that can control cortisol levels.

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tomas urdaniz

Tomás Urdaniz

I'm Thomas and when I'm not studying or doing practice I like playing football. My seriousness starts and ends in a hospital setting.

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