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Does Stress Really Make You Sick?

March 19, 2016

Managing StressDid you know up to 85% of all illness and disease is due to stress?  It’s true! But how exactly does stress make you sick?

Everyone has stress in their life, even if you went and lived in a cave away from the hassles of living you would still be subjected to stress. It’s how we handle the stress that is critical. When stress is prolonged and chronic it can be detrimental to your mental as well as your physical well-being. Constant worry, frustration and anxiety are examples of chronic stress. Cortisol is the culprit and here’s why.

During stressful situations the adrenal glands secret cortisol. Cortisol is a type of hormone, one of it’s functions is to suppress inflammation during a response to stress. This might sound good and it is if the stress is for short periods of time.  However, when cortisol is present in the blood for long periods of time the body develops a resistance to cortisol and does not respond to it properly.

When people experience chronic stress and the body becomes resistant to cortisol, the body starts ramping up the production cytokines. Cytokines actually promote inflammation which then leads to a state of chronic inflammation. Cytokines are associated with a host of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune conditions occur when the body basically mistakes itself as a threat and attacks itself. Examples are fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Other chronic conditions include diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

You should also know that cortisol supresses lymphyocytes, a major component in the immune system.  Lymphyocytes are cells in your body that identify and destroy virus’, bacteria and abnormal cells. With a lower amount of lymphocytes, the body’s immune system is then weakened.

Chronic stress results in digestive problems which has a ripple effect. When food is not digested properly we do not get the nutrients needed to nourish our body and keep our immune system healthy. When the immune system is vulnerable the body cannot heal itself as quickly, is susceptible to infection and other illnesses.

There are many techniques you can use to lower your stress levels including guided meditations, yoga, tai chi, qigong, getting out in nature and going for walks. If you enjoy writing you might also wish to try journaling.

Here’s a link to one of my guided meditations that can be used to relax, release tension and help with insomnia.

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