We all undergo some sort of stress, whether we experience a trauma, the loss of a loved one, exposure to violence or simply just the stress we might briefly feel every day, it is just a part of our lives. Different from stress that can motivate and push us to be more productive or rise to the occasion, an ongoing stress to which we have no way of coping can actually be harmful for our overall health. Studies have shown a connection between stress and becoming ill, and even more specifically, chronic stress, which can directly impact our immune system.
According to a feature on How Do We Know in the book Biology for the Informed Citizen with Physiology, a study was conducted on more than 400 people between the ages of 18 and 54 by the Medical Research Council’s Common Cold Unit in Salisbury, England. The study had two groups, a controlled group who were given saline nose drops, and the experimental group, who were given nose drops containing a cold virus.
All individuals in this study were monitored and evaluated for psychological stress prior to the study and after the nose drops were given. The results showed that individuals who experienced any kind of stress had a much greater chance of developing a cold when exposed to the virus, as opposed to those who had experienced little to no stress. The study concluded that the response of the immune system to stress had a direct connection to the likelihood of one becoming sick.
Not only can stress increase the chances of an individual becoming ill, but recent studies conclude that stress can increase the risk for autoimmune diseases. According the article Stress Disorders Tied to Autoimmune Disease, by the New York Times, in a study which used a Swedish database of patients who had stress-related disorders, resulted in the finding of an association between a clinical diagnosis of stress-related disorders to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases. Patients involved in this study had an average of a 10-year follow-up, involving also a comparison to people free of stress-related disorders, the results showed that, according to the article. “those with any stress-related disorder were 36 percent more likely to have an autoimmune disease” and those with PTSD diagnosis were at a much higher risk. Dr. Huan Son, the lead doctor in this study, emphasizes that stress can directly affect our long-term health. Dr. Son also states that “it affects not only psychiatric health, but leaves people vulnerable to other diseases” .
With this in mind, it’s important to know that when it comes to chronic stress, there are ways to get treatment early. Based on the evidence from these two studies, it is important to identify the stressors in our lives. To avoid a higher risk of becoming ill or potentially developing an ongoing stress that can negatively impact our immune system, we have to take the appropriate steps in addressing stress, for our better well-being. Anyone can relate to having experienced stress for brief moments, and being able to manage that stress and finding ways to cope with it can greatly benefit all of us. Take the results from these studies as a warning, that stress can truly weaken our immune response and if we want to avoid getting sick, it is best to worry less. Recognize that our state of mind has a huge effect on our health.