Can Stress Make You Sick?

Stress_Yes_Banner Image.jpg“Don’t stress it.”

This phrase has become common in our everyday language but do we take our own advice? Ah, if it were only that easy.

Stress is part of the human condition--it has been around since the beginning and isn’t leaving anytime soon. Instead of saber toothed tigers, rival cave clans or famine raising our blood pressure it’s our bank accounts, jobs and families that have us wound tight. So, can stress make us sick? In a word--yes. However, there are many factors to consider when looking at the impact of stress on our health.

Mind Body Connection

Let’s start with the mind-body connection. Every thought that passes through our minds triggers an emotion which in turn can trigger a physical response in our bodies. For centuries, Eastern Medicine has viewed the mind and body as connected entities. It has only been recently that medical thought in the west has acknowledged a mind body connection in relation to the cause and prevention of disease.

The mind body connection is still being explored and defined yet the evidence is becoming more conclusive. In the 1960’s, Dr. Herbert Benson conducted studies on the positive effects of meditation on blood pressure. In the 1970’s, the studies of psychologist Robert Ader showcased the effects of mental and emotional cues on the immune system. In 1989, Dr. David Spiegel at the Stanford School of Medicine confirmed cancer patients who received support group counseling in addition to regular treatment lived twice as long as the patients who didn’t receive the support group interaction. In a more recent study, Dr. Linda E. Carson PhD of the Tom Baker Cancer Center, found similar results on the effects of meditation and support groups with breast cancer patients.

Why is this important to you?

If the effects of stress haven’t already impacted your life chances are they will--and how you deal with stress can have a monumental effect on your overall health. Stress is on the rise in today's world and that trend shows no signs of slowing. According to the American Psychological Association the stress level of Americans rose from 4.9 to 5.1 on a stress scale of ten in 2015. Twenty four percent surveyed said they were extremely stressed in 2015 as opposed to only eighteen percent in 2014.

What has us the most worried? Typically, financial concerns (67% of people listed this as their primary stressor) then jobs (65%) and family issues (54%).

The Impact of Stress on the Immune System

Our bodies are built to deal with stress in small amounts. A little stress can be a good thing--activating our sympathetic nervous system, sharpening our focus and preparing us for action. Too much stress, especially over longer periods of time can become a chronic debilitating condition which is linked to cancer and other serious diseases.

Stress causes our bodies to release the hormone cortisol--which prepares us for a fight or flight response. It does its job in the moment but the problem arises when the stress doesn’t subside and the cortisol continues to flow. Cortisol shuts down or slows the immune system--telling it to take a break until the emergency is over. When cortisol is present the immune system is continually compromised thus giving infection and disease a window of opportunity.

Tips for Combatting Stress

  • Relaxation techniques--According to the Mayo Clinic relaxation is an essential part of any stress management plan. Relaxation techniques almost always involve rhythmic, controlled breathing and an emphasis on mindfulness. They can be physical or mental exercises such as yoga, tai chi, meditation or as simple as walking.
  • Healthy Living--The experts at HELPGUIDE mention the need for a nutritious diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise in combating stress. A fit, well fed and rested body is better equipped to handle stress.

Leisure time to have fun, laugh, engage in joyful activities and recharge the batteries is also an important part of a stress management plan. In addition, regularly connecting with others can provide a sense of comfort, understanding and validation which can help reduce stress levels.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy--This type of counseling focuses on challenging and modifying stress producing thought patterns. The Institute for Cognitive Therapy recommends diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, mindfulness techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic and visualization training to calm the mind and body. After calming patients, Cognitive Behavior Therapy practitioners use probability, mood monitoring, oasis and cognitive flipping techniques to alter negative thought processes. Patients are encouraged to explore the probability of bad things actually happening (low) and focus on what they can control in their lives.

Stress Free at First Stop Health

It’s smart to adopt a healthy lifestyle and take precautions to keep stress to a minimum. However, even with the best strategies in place, you may find your immune system worn down and your body starting to get sick. When that happens, if you’re a First Stop Health member, you have 24/7 access to licensed doctors who can assess and treat conveniently over the phone--without any stress.

We, at First Stop Health, take all the hassle out of accessing top notch care so you’re back to feeling better--fast. After all, in today's fast paced world you have enough to worry about.