A Close Relationship Between Stress and Illness

Studies have consistently shown a close relationship between stress and illness. Stressed people get ill more often and when they do, on average the illness is more serious.

Twenty years ago stress was said by doctors to be responsible for at least two-thirds of all illness; nowadays, the most often quoted figure is around 90%.

Stress arises from a mis-perception or mismatch of the demands made upon us and our ability to meet those demands. It can be physical, mental or emotional. When the body and/or mind have been taxed to the limit without sufficient nourishment, rest and recuperation we get stressed.

It affects the immune system and creates physiological changes such as increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and sweating. These changes can be beneficial if you’re running away from danger, but only if they’re of limited duration. If they continue too long the body’s ability to regain and maintain equilibrium is compromised. For example, there’s a direct link between stress and lower back pain, a tight jaw and clenched teeth, which lead to neck and shoulder pain, headaches and tension around the eyes.

There’s little doubt that people who feel stressed or under threat (real or imagined) are at greater risk of becoming ill, which may be why the number of heart attacks on Monday mornings is statistically higher than could be predicted by chance alone. Children are more likely to develop a temperature or sore throat on the day of a school test and those terrified of bullying often developing eczema, asthma or some other condition to avoid going to school. One shy little girl I met was so scared of attending birthday parties she develops a balloon phobia.

Sometimes the effect is even more dramatic. I knew a woman whose 40 year-old husband, a keen runner, dropped dead a few seconds after opening a malicious letter – the emotional shock literally killed him.

Since most illnesses have a psycho-somatic component, it follows that any diagnosis, treatment or therapy which doesn’t take mental and emotional factors into account is likely to fail or be impermanent. Fortunately many doctors are waking up – but there’s still an awfully long way to go!


©David L Preston, 24.3.2017

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