Recent research suggests that our response to stress could be influenced by our experiences in the womb. Scientists have been studying mechanisms by which maternal stress — and the resulting high levels of cortisol in her body during pregnancy — could affect the development of the baby. According to the research, if a mother has high cortisol levels, the fetus will have similarly high levels. As a result, this exposure could effect the level of receptors for stress-related substances in the brain, which may make them more susceptible to stressors later in life.
Even after birth, a mother's response to stress affects her baby. Research shows that if a mother is stressed or very depressed during the early weeks of her baby's life, she may not establish a good relationship with her child. Worse, there could be long-term consequences on the child's stress response, behavior and intelligence.
Chronic Stress Has Serious Health Implications
Even people with the most adaptable personalities can experience the effects of long-term stress if they lack a sense of control over aspects of their daily lives. Scientists studying stress in the workplace, for example, have found that those who perceive that they have the least control over their working environment suffer from the highest levels of stress-related illness. Experts recommend that managers work to ensure that their employees have some sense of empowerment in order to relieve an unnecessary source of chronic stress.
Caregivers of elderly or chronically ill family members are another group subject to chronic high levels of stress. For example, studies done on caregivers of Alzheimer patients show that chronically high cortisol levels significantly weakened their immune systems. Mental health professionals suggest that caregivers try to set very small goals in the care or recovery of their loved ones and take respite from their responsibilities to lessen their stress.