Chronic stress can lead to poor health. Some people tend to react to stressors with an all out physiological effort that takes a toll on their health. We call these people hot reactors. If you notice that you get angry easily (you are often anxious or depressed, you urinate frequently, you experience constipation or diarrhea more than usual, or you experience nausea or vomiting), you may be a hot reactor. In that case, you may want to seek regular medical examinations to identify illnesses when they can be easily cured or contained and learn to use stress management techniques and strategies.
People have died or have become ill from severe stress, when there seems nothing physically wrong with them. Some illnesses are easily seen as being physical, while others are assuredly recognized as being mental, yet it is impossible to deny the interaction between the mind and the body and the effects of one upon the other. The mind makes the body susceptible. These conditions are called psychosomatic. Psychosomatic disease is not “all in the mind”, contrary to popular belief, but involves both mind and body. Psychosomatic disease is real, can be diagnosed, and is manifested physically. However, it also has a component in the mind, although it is not easily measured. That common cold may be a function of psychological stress, which decreases the effectiveness of the immunological system and results in the body being more vulnerable to cold viruses. That cold may also be caused by psychological stress using up particular vitamins in the body and leading to decreased effectiveness in combating viruses. Psychogenic refers to a physical disease caused by emotional stress. Asthma is an example of this. Somatogenic psychosomatic disease occurs when the mind increases the body’s susceptibility to some disease causing microbes or some natural degenerative process. Examples are rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Stress-related Conditions and Illnesses
This is the excessive and damaging pressure of the blood against the walls of the arterial blood vessels. There are several causes of hypertension. Excessive sodium (salt) intake may cause hypertension in those genetically susceptible. It can also be caused by a kidney disease, a narrow opening in the aorta (main blood vessel), and the use of contraceptives. However, these conditions cause only an estimated ten percent of all hypertension. Approximately 90 percent of hypertension is termed essential hypertension and has no known cause.
Forty-one percent of the United States population aged twenty to seventy-four are hypertensive, although many of these people do not even know it, since hypertension occurs without signs and symptoms. Since blood pressure increases during stress, the relationship between stress and hypertension has long been suspected. Recognizing this relationship, educational programs for hypertensives have included stress management. Although hypertension can be controlled with medication, the possibility of disturbing side effects from these drugs has led to attempts to control hypertension in other ways. Since obesity, cigarette smoking, and lack of exercise correlates to hypertension, programs involving weight control, smoking withdrawal, and exercise, as well as decreased ingestion of salt, have all been used to respond to high blood pressure.
Apoplexy (also called stroke) is a lack of oxygen in the brain resulting from a blockage or rupture of one of the arteries that supply it. Stroke is related to hypertension, which may also result in a cerebral hemorrhage. Stroke has been linked with high blood pressure, diet and stress.
Coronary Heart Disease
Heart attack kills more Americans than any other single cause of death. That stress is related to coronary heart disease is not surprising when we consider the physiological mechanisms that stress brings into play: accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased serum cholesterol, and fluid retention resulting in increased blood volume. Further, the stereotypical heart attack victim has been the highly stressed, overworked, overweight businessperson with a cigarette dangling from his lips and a martini in his hand.
Ulcers are fissures or cuts in the wall of the stomach and other parts of the intestines. For many years, it was thought that stress led to the excessive amounts of hydrochloric acid being produced in the stomach and the intestines. One theory explaining the effects of stress on the development of ulcers pertains to the mucous coating that lines the stomach. The theory states that, during chronic stress, secretions cause the stomach lining to constrict. This, in turn, results in a shutting down of mucosal production. Without the protective barrier, hydrochloric acid breaks down the tissue and can even reach blood vessels, resulting in bleeding ulcer.
Many cases of ulcers are caused by a bacterium called H. pylori. It is believed that H. pylori inflames the gastrointestinal lining, stimulates acid production, or both. Another major cause of ulcers is the ingestion of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxenan piroxicam. These drugs promote bleeding in the stomach and can wear away its protective lining. Still, stress can exacerbate the conditions in the digestive tract to make ulcers more likely to occur. Stress results in an increase in hydrochloric acid in the intestines and stomach, and a decreased effectiveness of the immune system that is marshaled to combat the invasion by H. pylori.
Migraine headaches are the result of a constriction and dilation of the carotid arteries of one side of the head. The constriction phase, called the pre13 attack or prodome, is often associated with light or noise sensitivity, irritability, and a flushing or pallor of the skin. When the dilation of the arteries occurs, certain chemicals stimulate adjacent nerve endings, causing pain. The migraine is not just a severe headache. It is a unique type of headache with special characteristics, and it usually involves just one side of head. The prodome consists of warning signs, such as flashing lights, differing
patterns, or some dark spaces. Migraines are a sign and symptom of a lifestyle gone awry. Signs and symptoms should be treated with either medication or meditation without eliminating the underlying cause. Rather than care for the migraine after it strikes, why not prevent it in the first place by changing your lifestyle?
Although many people do not realize it, both the prevention and the treatment of cancer are suspected of being related to stress. Some researchers believe that chronic stress results in a chronic inability of the immune response to prevent the multiplication of mutant cells, which some believe are present but normally controlled in most people. The role of stress in the development of cancer is still being debated. Since cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, research in this area has been and is presently being conducted. Further, some support has been provided for the cancer-prone personality type. The cancer-prone person has been described as holding resentment, with the inability to forgive, using self-pity, lacking the ability to develop and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships, and having poor self-image.
Headaches may be caused by muscle tension accompanying stress. This muscle tension may include the forehead, jaw, or neck. Once the headache occurs, it tends to fuel itself. It is difficult to relax when you’re in pain. Treatment for tension headaches may include medication, heat on tense muscles, or massage. Others have also reported on the effectiveness of relaxation training for control and prevention of tension headache.
Allergies And Asthma
Some medical scientists, unable to identify any antigen in many asthmatics, have argued that allergies are emotional diseases. This was shown in an experiment in which a woman who was allergic to horses began to wheeze when shown only a picture of a horse, another woman who was allergic to fish had an allergic reaction to a toy fish and empty fishbowl’ and others reacted to uncontaminated air when suspecting it contained pollen. Crying-induced asthma, brought on during stressful events is another example. Some have concluded, therefore, that the effects of stress on the immune system either decrease our ability to withstand an antigen or, even in the absence of an antigen, can lead to allergic-like response. Some allergy sufferers
— in particular, asthmatics — are being taught relaxation techniques and breathing control exercises to enable them to control their physiology during allergic reactions.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a condition that develops in people who have experienced an extreme psychological and/or physical event that is interpreted as particularly distressing. PTSD is defined as:
· A threat to one’s life or serious injury or being subject to horror with intense fear and helplessness
· Recurrent flashbacks, repeated memories and emotions, dreams, nightmares, illusions or hallucinations related to traumatic events from which one is often amnesic
· Trying to avoid feelings, thoughts, or places that may trigger associations
· Poor sleep, poor appetite
· Feeling jumpy, irritable, or emotionally explosive or “spaced out”
· Having difficulty concentrating, socializing, or working
Among the characteristics of those who have successfully managed PTSD are that they had supportive relationships with family and friends, they did not dwell on the trauma, they had personal faith/religion/hope, and they had a sense of humor.
Stress has been shown to affect other health conditions, as well. Stress can lead pregnant women to miscarry. In a study, 70 percent of women who had miscarriage had at least one stressful experience four to five months before the miscarriage, as compared with 52 percent who did not have one. Even sports injuries occur more frequently in athletes who have experienced stressors and who do not have the resources and skills to cope well with stress. With high stress and poor coping resources, the result is increased muscle tension and attention redirected toward the stress and away from the event.