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

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