Stress is a common part of everyday life. It can become harmful to the body when it is prolonged or chronic. It affects the body in very real, physical ways by influencing the immune and hormonal systems.
For allergy sufferers, this can mean an exacerbation of allergic symptoms; stress can also lead to the onset of allergy and sensitivity. A basic premise of mind/body medicine is that chronic stress contributes to illness and that relaxation techniques and learning positive ways of coping with stress will improve your health.
Stressed Out— A Pervasive Problem
Although the concept of stress—being “stressed out” or “under constant stress”—may be commonly discussed today, its role as a contributing factor in many diseases is underappreciated. Estimates suggest that as many as 70% to 80% of all visits to physicians’ offices are for stress-related problems.’
Chronic stress directly affects the immune system, and if not effectively dealt with, can seriously compromise health.
Stress is a pervasive problem among Americans, according to a poll of corporate executives. For example, 44% of employees polled said their work load is excessive; 43% are bothered by excessive job pressure; and 55% worry considerably about their company’s future; 25% of both men and women feel stressed out at work every day, another 12% feel it almost every day, and another 38% feel it once to several days a week.’
Stress can be defined as a reaction (to any stimulus or interference) that upsets normal functioning and disturbs mental or physical health.
It can be brought on by internal conditions such as illness, pain, emotional conflict, or psychological problems, or by external circumstances, such as bereavement, financial problems, loss of job or spouse, relocation, allergies, and electromagnetic fields.
Stress can be positive or negative. Winning the lottery is probably as physically upsetting as the death of a close family member.
Stress, when it becomes chronic, is often unrecognized by the person whose body is experiencing it; one begins to accept it as a fact of life, without being aware of how it is actually compromising body functions and preparing the foundation for illness.
More specifically, research confirms that high levels of emotional stress increase one’s susceptibility to illness. Unrelieved, chronic stress begins taxing and eventually weakening or even suppressing the immune system.
Stress can also lead to hormonal imbalances; which, in turn, interfere with immune function.
Of all the body’s systems, stress damages endocrine function the most It does so by overly activating the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system, the part that controls the “fight-or-flight” response and initiates adrenaline and cortisol release.
Research in psychoneuroimmunology has shown that the immune and nervous systems are linked by extensive networks of nerve endings in the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and thymus gland (a primary source of T cells).
At the same time, receptors for a variety of chemical messengers—catecholamines, prostaglandins, thyroid hormone, growth hormone, sex hormones, serotonin, and endorphins—have been found on the surfaces of white blood cells.
Such connections serve to integrate the activities of the immune, hormonal, and nervous systems, enabling the mind and emotional states to influence the body’s resistance to disease,’ potentially leading to infection and allergy.’