Understanding Stress at a Snail’s Pace


[Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln by Nicholas H. Shepherd. License: Public Domain]

7 score and 11 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln was likely to be the most stressed man in the United States. Researchers believe that he had major character flaws, clinical depression and anxiety. Tasked with piecing together a failing nation engaged in a gruesome Civil War, he could barely control his fatigue, self-esteem issues, and alleged suicidal thoughts while at war with himself, (Shenk 2005). Nevertheless, following four war-stricken years, Lincoln unified the country and conquered his own mental demons.

Most people will never need to deal with the pressure Abraham Lincoln did, but almost everyone might experience extreme stress, which can have devastating effects. In a 2010 survey, Americans reported money, work, family, relationships, and health as the multiple stressors they face (Clay, 2011). As stressors become more serious, most people lack the ability to cope properly. Consequently, many Americans are turning to abusive substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, for what they think is a beneficial solution (Mannix, personal communication, July 29, 2014).

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response to prodigious pressure under overwhelming circumstances. The repercussions of stress tend to affect people mentally, physically and emotionally, wreaking havoc on the entire body (M. Mannix, personal communication, July 29, 2014). Like Lincoln, people are more commonly affected by stress in a negative way. Surprisingly, stress can be beneficial; eustress, which in Latin means “good stress,” is stress that can increase productivity. Finishing a project the night before it is due can increase levels of eustress, pushing a student to work harder and produce a higher quality end result.


[Graphic by Staff Illustrator. Data from American Psychological Association, 2010 ]

Stress, Memory and Snails

Snails respond to stress like mammals do. Similar stress responses in both humans and snails make the snail a perfect animal model for researchers studying this constant factor in our lives. In a recent study conducted at the University of Exeter, researchers found that when snails must cope with strenuous and varied stressors, their memory stops working (Dalesman, Sunada, Teskey, & Lukowiak, 2012). In the study, snails became stressed when they experienced low levels of calcium, needed for proper shell growth, and when the presence of other snails caused overcrowding. Humans too feel stressed without proper diet and when they feel they do not have adequate personal space.

This research suggests that the amount and type of stress can affect a snail’s memory. Distress is negative stress. When snails or humans are affected by distress, their memory functions are thwarted. On the other hand, eustress is healthy and accelerates memory functions in both snails and humans.

Research on stress has advanced thanks to studies with snails. Psychologists suggest that those dealing with stress slow down and take time to understand their stressors and search for ways to relax (M. Mannix, personal communication, July 29, 2014).

[Comic by Staff Illustrator]

[Comic by Staff Illustrator]

In Brief

  • Snails react to stress similarly to humans and are affected by similar stressors, giving researchers the ideal model for investigation.
  • The memory of snails can be improved or diminished based on the amount or type of stress applied to them, meaning some stress is good and too much stress is bad.
  • Stress can affect both humans and snails negatively or positively; further research will determine how to better utilize and cope with stress.

Works Cited

This article was written by cYw31. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff

Author: cYw31

Hello! This has been my first year as a writer for cYw, and I have enjoyed it immensely. I have also been given the opportunity to work on the editing side of cYw this year, and am ecstatic. I am a member of my school's STEM Academy, and have always felt conflicted about which areas of science I wanted to pursue. Working in great programs, such as cYw, helps me to develop my interests. Also, cYw uniquely allows me to combine my love for writing and my curiosity for science. Besides science, I play for my high school's varsity soccer team and a regional club soccer team that keep me traveling year round. I also place much of my time and energy into Student Government, as class treasurer. I love volunteering, I am a member of key club, and especially enjoy science related volunteerism. Thank you for your interest in my article, please leave comments underneath, they will help me become a better writer!

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  1. I liked the lead in to your article! Abraham Lincoln was a fascinating individual. The study of stress is important, as it is a pervasive issue in today’s high-paced society.
    Jill Ascher, Lab Animal Veterinarian

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    • Hello!

      Thank you, I very much appreciate your interest in my work. You are correct, stress is becoming more of an issue today, than ever before.


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  2. This was a well written research story. Was there any findings about stress, snails, and their ability to produce offspring?

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  3. Hello, cYw31.

    Who knew! Snails as a model of mammal stress … this is a whole new area to me. Thank you for writing about it.

    I do have one request – could you give more bibliographic data on Shenk, Clay, Dalesman et al, and Mannix, so that I could do some follow-up reading.



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  4. A very nice approach- it’s not easy to distill research so clearly- good job!

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    • Hello!

      Thank you, positive encouragement makes writing that much more rewarding!


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  5. Referring to mental illness as a “character flaw” is antiquated and cruel. Ditch the stigma and stick to the science.

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    • Hello!

      I appreciate the feedback, and will look to work on that in the future.


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  6. Hi cYw31,
    I have recently read your article about how stress in snails and humans are similar. You mentioned that stress can be beneficial and increase productivity, however too much stress is bad, I have one question: are there other factors that play into making someone stressed out other than a lack of proper diet and limited personal space and how would you suggest coping with stress?

    Thank you for taking the time, have a great day,

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