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Stress: A Real Threat to Health

Cote D'Azur, July 2012 (105)

Stress is on the rise both at work and at home.  Stress can be caused by many things including; emotional shocks (death in the family, divorce, family problems, financial setbacks, etc.), being overworked and run down, lack of rest; they all contribute to a weakening of the immune system.  A recent study [1] reveals how stress influences disease, identifying inflammation once again as the culprit. Stress and anxiety wreak havoc on the mind and body. For example, psychological stress is associated with greater risk for depression, heart disease and infectious diseases. But, until now, it has not been clear exactly how stress influences disease and health.

The research team found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which demonstrated for the first time how this leads to the development and progression of disease.  Earlier ground breaking research work showed that people suffering from psychological stress are more susceptible to developing common colds. With the common cold, symptoms are not caused by the virus; rather they are a side effect of the inflammatory response that is triggered as part of the body’s effort to fight infection. The greater the body’s inflammatory response to the virus, the greater is the likelihood of experiencing the symptoms of a cold.

The immune system’s ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease. When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control and consequently produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders.  Increased levels of cortisol caused by chronic stress also plays a role in hormonal and metabolic reactions.

Tips to reduce your stress:

Practice deep breathing – is perhaps the best way to reduce your stress levels and put you in a calmer state of mind.

Limit coffee – excess coffee consumption causes cortisol secretion.

Exercise – any type of exercise will help alleviate cortisol levels, unless it is excessive or chronic cardio causing the reverse.

Sleep – dedicating at least seven to eight hours of sleep each evening will go a long way towards improving your mental outlook and making you feel like you can handle problems and temptations that come your way by increasing your willpower and self-control.  Those who aren’t sleeping enough are more likely to have higher cortisol levels as well, so this is something that you do really have to watch.

Yoga – is another great way to reduce stress and cortisol levels. It focuses on bringing you a better overall mind-body connection and can help you feel more relaxed and energised as you go about your day.

Start a journal – Getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper can help you place them out of mind so you aren’t as likely to ruminate over them again and again.  Journaling is a technique that far too many people overlook as being effective but can really enhance the way that you feel.

Get support – Whether you turn to a close friend for support or your husband or wife or possibly even a therapist, find someone who you can talk to during the hard times. They can be your best ally for busting through stress.

References:
[1] Sheldon Cohen, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, April 2, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118355109

Adapted from this article

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