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Stress: How it affects the body

For centuries, doctors have recognized that emotional stress – especially extreme fear, anxiety, anger, or grief – can trigger sudden and unexpected death. More recently, medical journals have reported a link between frequent or persistent stress and potentially life threatening conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and alcoholism. The British Medical Journal, for example, reports a study indicating that women who had been successfully treated for breast cancer were more likely to suffer a recurrence if they had undergone severe stress, than cancer victims experiencing less pressure. . Here is an explanation by David B. Beaton of Rochester Institute of Technology. as to how this process takes place in our bodies.

Stress invites disease by assaulting the defenses of our immune system. Disease fighting cells are wiped out leaving us more susceptible to diseases. “The argument is not that stress produces an infection,” says John B. Jemmott III, PhD., of Princeton University, and Steven E. Locke, M.D., of the Harvard Medical School, in Psychological Bulletin, “but it impairs immunologic functioning and makes the person, if exposed to an infectious agent, more likely to develop the disease than he or she would have been if not under stress.”

Stress can get you in an indirect way too. When people are stressed they often try to find comfort in things that seems to make the problems go away - temporarily, such as smoking, over eating, or drinking too much alcohol. In the long run, these habits will shorten their lifespan by causing cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema, liver disease, and a host of other life shortening diseases.

What is causing so much stress?

Researchers have come up with a list of stressful situations that include both positive and negative ‘life events’ such as getting married or divorced, getting promoted or losing your job, experiencing the birth of a child or death of a family member, buying a house or defaulting on your mortgage, and going on vacation or spending time in the hospital, amongst other things. As you can see, even the good things in life can be potentially bad for us – if we do not know how to deal with them properly. How we deal with situations and life changing events will determine if our life is a ‘terminal illness’ or a normal homeostatic environment. You do not have to be a victim of stress – you can beat the odds! In fact, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, you will go a long way in avoiding its repercussions altogether. Your attitude towards everything will determine your stress level and the effects.

Stress per se does not make you sick; rather, your interpretation of the stressful event and how you react to it. For example, you are at the office and you are summoned by your employer to his office. You can either draw a feeling of anticipation “Oh, good. He wants to praise me.” or view it in a dreadful way “Oh God, what did I do now?” Such differences in how you can interpret the same situation is why you will either thrive on stress, using it to nourish your spirit and increase the quality and length of your life, or allow stress to take over - and just cave in.

Attitude influences ‘stress hardiness’ in many ways. Take hostility, for example. Studies have found that people who are cynical and easily irritated have difficulty making and keeping friends. It also shows that having a network of trusted friends and relatives protects against the lethal effects of stress. Evidently, combining a lot of stress with little social support can dangerously increase your risk for developing life-threatening illnesses like heart disease. What’s more, people who are hostile tend to attract trouble like magnets. According to researchers at the University of Utah, hostile people experienced far more daily hassles than friendly, agreeable people. In contrast, a friendly and agreeable attitude actually helps reduce conflict in life and invites support from others. Stress is bad for your health, do everything in your power to alleviate it.

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