Chapter 8: Stress and Life Expectancy

Throughout the novel we’ve watched from a safe distance the unveiling of many stressful situations between characters, terrorists, and the government. Although in the past few chapters these scenes have not been as prevalent, Chapter Eight reinstates the suspense of stress into the hostage situation of the novel. At the request of Roxane, Carmen sneaks Mr. Hosokawa – in the middle of the night, across the house – to see her; the pair, however, is greeted by the extended rifle of a woken Beatriz. The research I conducted last week for Chapter Seven led me to further question negative potency. What sorts of biological variables can stress manipulate and what are the positive/negative implications of the consequences? How does stress impact lifetime longevity (if it even does)?

To begin, it would be helpful to define what stress actually is (in greater depth than what we perceive it to be on a daily basis). My research led me to the work of early twentieth century Doctor of Medicine Hans Selye, the father of the term “stress” itself. Selye conducted and published the results of his experiments in a 1936 issue of Nature. What particularly interested Selye was the way lab rats – when injected with harmful substances – reacted instinctively in a way different from what the side-effects should have caused (Selye, 32). Selye calls the way a rat handles and reacts to the trauma and change in environment the concept of General Adaptation Syndrome, or stress (Selye, 32). Selye establishes the basis through which stress will be studied throughout the rest of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with “his legacy of empiric research.”

Selye describes stress as three stages: “1) the alarm reaction, 2) the stage of resistance, and 3) the stage of exhaustion” (Selye, 3). It’s important to note that his theory didn’t change between 1936 and 1956; further research confirms it still stands today. Stress can be measured as the “totality” of changes observed to have taken place during General Adaptation Syndrome; not all stress is negative or a sign of damage, as some stress is actually quite positive and healthy in moderation (Selye, 3). Selye notes “…stress causes certain changes in the structure and chemical composition of the body…,” many of which are heavily biological and working in junction with psychological reactions (Selye, 3). “The nervous system and endocrine (or hormonal) system play particularly important parts in maintaining resistance during stress,” the reaction opposite of the body’s natural state of readiness, or homeostasis (Selye, 3). Primary biological areas of interest include the adrenal glans, thymus, a group of three lymph nodes, and the inner surface of the stomach (Selye, 174).

Selye asks himself “how it is possible that general stress sometimes cures and sometimes aggravates a local disease condition” (Selye, 154)? His experiments on rats supported the legitimacy of this question, as stress in rats subject to weak irritants completely cured them of the toxins, but when subjective to stronger, higher-concentrated irritants, they were unable to cope. The experiment proves stress can either cure or aggravate an issue or challenge (Selye, 156). If the rat is able to do what it wants and actively work to fight the challenge, it has a high chance of doing so; it’s when it isn’t able to fight and allows the stress to take over that it eventually leads to exhaustion and fails to conquer the challenge. This leads me nicely to my follow-up question.

How does stress impact lifetime longevity (if it even does)? According to recent research conducted by Elif Duman and Turhan Canli, it absolutely does. Experiments conducted by the team compare two groups of participants (105 Caucasian males); the group subject to higher levels of stress “responded with increased… mRNA levels… and also showed global methylation as a function of ELS and chronic stress” (Duman). In other words, Duman and Canli conclude their research in proving “both early and recent life stress alter DNA methylation…” (Duman). Why this is to significant, however, is that the genetics of a stressed individual can actually become modified and lead to later health complications.

Amongst these health complications is cancer. According to Edna Riche, persistent depression has “consequences at the molecular level in terms of the speed and quality of DNA repair that could mediate an increased cancer risk” (Riche). Another serious consequences of prolonged deep stress is Epstein Barr virus, which can lead to lymphoma in patients with AIDS (Riche). Are there any methods of prevention for this barring great reduction in stress?

In conclusion, the stress we experience in our lives every day can take quite a toll on our living, biological beings. Hans Seyle was the first to study the “syndrome” and has laid the groundwork for future scientists and researchers studying the area. His life dedication to experimenting with lab rats and studying the psychological and biological effects of stress has proved the three stages we go through when put under such pressure. Further research has confirmed a cut in lifetime by showing through experimentation and research the relationship between high levels of stress and terminal diseases. Although my research this week has been rarely neat, I would like to further explore how the hormonal system has such a significant impact on the DNA encoded in our cells. Does average life expectancy differ significantly from country to country? Does average level of stress play a significant role in affecting a country’s average life expectancy?

Works Cited

Duman, Elif, and Turhan Canli. “Influence of Life Stress, 5-HTTLPR Genotype, and SLC6A4 Methylation on Gene Expression and Stress Response in Healthy Caucasian Males.” Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders. 14 May 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. <>.

Riche, Edna. “Stress, Depression, the Immune System, and Cancer.” Psychological Features of Cancer 5 (2004): 621. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. <>.

Selye, Hans. “A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents.” Nature 138 (19138):
32. Macmillan Magazines Ltd. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <>.

Selye, Hans. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956. Print.


4 thoughts on “Chapter 8: Stress and Life Expectancy

  1. bsejdiu942 says:

    Hey Colin,

    I was interested in your research about the correlation between stress and life expectancy! I would definitely continue with the research about how DNA becomes altered with stress and what complications actually result from it? Stress itself has a lot of other avenues you could take, like the broader aspect of how 21st century life takes a toll on the average citizen. A lot of other nations are changing their work hours to reflect better health for their workers. I know this is a big issue within the architecture industry, where I can personally attest to the fact I have sacrificed my health for the sake of completing models and designs. You could use a small focus group within a university and study how stress effects individuals of certain majors and what changes occur, whether mental, physical, etc.

    You could also research on how humans are trying to figure out how to extend human life, via genetic manipulation. The aspect of our DNA which causes our aging, is involved with telomeres. Telomeres themselves are in a sense the packaging around the DNA, sort of. They maintain the ability of a cell to retain its genetic material for further reproduction. With every cellular division, they become smaller and smaller to the point where cells just die. This is what leads to aging, where our bodies are literally falling apart because the telomeres are too short and they can no divide like they used to. There are certain species that have telomeres that don’t degrade over time, and are seen as the key to immortality, or at least a much longer human life span. This is probably a whole other topic on its own on the ethical nature of whether humans should live for extremely long periods of time and how that would affect society and the resources available. Although this research has been linked to be able to cure certain major illnesses like cancer, as both involve cellular reproduction. In regards to your question at the end, I think you could focus on the effects in society that we all put up with, and compare them to other nations, while also comparing certain groups within the same nation or culture. Then comparing that stress level to the overall life expectancy of said nation.
    Overall I like the specific focus of your research and am interested in where you take it.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. ballen68 says:

    Hi Colin,

    Your research on the correlation between stress and life expectancy is very interesting. I think it’s possible that a lot of the research done on this could be somewhat skewed. I think that it is tough to show causation between stress and life expectancy, when stress is involved in so many forms of death. If someone is deathly sick they most likely are stressed as well, so how it’s hard to correlate using experiments/observations stress to life expectancy, because what if it is just the deathly sickness that deteriorated the person over time, and not the stress? That is the one thing that concerned me most about the one question you proposed at the end for further research, “Does average level of stress play a significant role in affecting a country’s average life expectancy?”. I think it is possible for you to explore this area of stress and other countries dealings with stress, but you will need to be careful not to try prove causation.

    I think that exploring the work place would be a great avenue for you to take. There is a huge difference in stress within the workplace across cultures. It would be interesting to explore if those differences affect productivity, or maybe even the health of the labor force. Is U.S. more productive than other countries who work less than us? Is our stress level as a country what causes us to be less productive than others are per capita, even though we have a longer work week? Workplace stress is a huge area of discussion right now, because it is where we spend the largest chunk of our time, making it more influential on our health and well-being. I am interested in seeing where you decide to take your research with the idea of stress, and its effects on us.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. annawallace003 says:


    You have brought up a good point about the stress that the hostages are dealing with and I am now realizing that I haven’t paid much attention to this. I have often times heard the phrase, “Stress is a silent killer.” which I do believe can be true in some circumstances. You definitely addressed this by including the section on lifetime longevity. Although stress might not directly be a killer you explained that it could lead to an increased risk of cancer and other risky circumstances. Although there stress can be prevented, I feel like it is something that everyone deals with and should be more aware of, especially knowing the dangers of constantly feeling this way.
    The three stages of stress that you included was very informative and I am now clearly aware of how stress “works.” I was surprised to see that there is a positive side this; from my experience there is not anything good that comes from stress so I was especially interested to read about the positive side.

    I have a suggestion for narrowing this area of research. I know that different jobs come with different stress levels and it would be interesting to see how life expectancy differs from job to job. For example, an emergency dispatcher would experience I much higher level of on the job stress than say a seamstress. This could be something that you may find helpful however; I realize that you aren’t researching this topic for your final paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michael Pedersen says:

    Hey Colin,
    Very insightful post. The boundless possibilities that exist in examining the role and factors involved with the concept of stress is often an exploration taken for granted.

    One surprising thing I found while reading your post was how relatively recent the term “stress” was coined. It makes me wonder how previous generations thought of stress and what causes and effects they might have associated with it. The shear variety of ways to think about stress is quite stressful. It can even be thought of from an evolutionary standpoint.In this case, Selye’s notion of positive stress could be related to the way the “Selfish Gene” evolves under pressure. In other words, the way that a stressful situation, whether it be for survival or a grade, can invoke long lasting change in an individual.

    As you mentioned while talking about Duman’s research the genetics of an individual can be modified due to stress so there may be a correlation between the possible hereditary aspect of stress induced bodily conditions. For instance, does a family member’s stressful life influence, through epi-genetics or other means, the likelihood for the current branch of the family to develop stress developed conditions?

    Overall, I enjoyed your post and feel that there is a lot you could explore in future research. Given all the points you made in your paper about how stress can compromise one’s immune system and possibly influence genetics stress has truly become a field requiring further exploration. In general, I appreciated the historical context of your post and look forward to seeing any future research you do on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

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