This is a Guest Post by Jessica Socheski.
In 2007, Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, revealed that stress can be a factor that contributes to and worsens illnesses, “… in particular depression, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS.”
The links between depression and stress prove complex. In some cases, a stressful event can lead to depression, and other times, the stress caused by enduring a chronic illness can lead to depression. Science Daily reports that depression is common “among people who have been diagnosed with a serious illness, suggesting that physical disease itself is a stressful event that can lead to depression.”
Life stress is serious, too. Chronic stress, which often comes from the daily grind of the workplace, can play a part in bringing on cardiovascular illness like coronary heart disease. This relationship has been clearly revealed as stress wears on the heart by raising blood pressure and inhibiting the body from fighting off illness.
Less clear is the connection between HIV/AIDS and stress. However, there is a consistently demonstrated link “… between stress and the progression of AIDS.” In Cohen’s article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it was reported that “…changes in the autonomic nervous system caused by stress may also contribute to disease progression by influencing the replication of the HIV virus.
How Does Stress Impact Disease
Researchers are still discovering the role which stress can play in a chronic illness. The impact of stress might take place behaviorally because people under severe stress tend to:
•Smoke more often
•Not follow through with medical treatment and doctor’s advice
But stress might also surface biologically. Stress can trigger the body’s endocrine system to release hormones which would affect the body’s other systems, “… including the immune system,” notes Science Daily .
Identifying Your Stressors
Stressors are things or events which interfere with a personal goal. And the more highly a person values their goal, the more stress the person will feel when the goal comes under a threat. For example, a student who values arriving at class on time (the goal) will become stressed when stuck in a traffic jam (the stressor).
If reading the possible effects of stress has you stressing out even more, take a moment to breathe and relax because stress is a natural and normal part of life. Your ability to feel stress means that your body is reacting to its surroundings properly and adapting to change just the way it is designed to.
Everyone experiences stress and its symptoms. It is when negative stress becomes common and intense that it can prove harmful to a person’s health. When dealing with a chronic illness, it proves especially important to protect your body from anxiety by identifying the stressors in your life and deciding how to handle them.
Stress can be caused by any number of events and worries including financial, work related, emotional or a life crisis to name just a few. With recent changes in health insurance, many people are dealing with high stress over their healthcare plans. Other events which can trigger stress in the mind and body include:
•Dramatic life changes such as divorce or unemployment,
•Disasters including a hurricane, earthquake or disease,
•Daily hassles such as traffic jams.
Can You Fix Stress?
“Stop stressing.” That is a lot easier to say than to actually do. Stress often creeps up stealthily before we realize the toll it is taking. If you are dealing with a chronic illness, you already have plenty of stressors in your life and deal with them on a daily basis.
There is no one solution to solving stress. It is also not possible to eradicate it completely. Fortunately, it is possible to learn how to manage stress and help your mind, emotions and body to recover from stress to fight illness and work towards healing.
. Helpguide.org recommends the four As:
•Avoid unnecessary stressors by choosing between the “‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ on your to-do list and steering clear of people and situations” that cause unwarranted stress.
•Alter situations which can’t be avoided. Use assertiveness to deal with problems rather than living in fear of them. Vocalize concerns rather than “bottling up your feelings and increasing your stress.” Work to find compromises to help an issue or circumstance.
•Adapt to certain stressors with a new mindset and positive outlook. Refocus on the big picture and take time during the day to be thankful for the little things in life. When possible, just choose not to become upset about things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme.
•Accept things that you can’t change and look for the possible positives like personal growth. Accept that you aren’t perfect, and neither is anyone else. This will help you give grace to both yourself and others.
Along with mental ways to approach your stress, you can also work on physical aspects like setting aside quiet time to relax, exercising regularly, eating healthy meals and making sleep and proper rest a priority.
Once you learn to recognize stressors and defend yourself against unnecessary stress, you will be better able to improve your outlook and your health and work with your body towards recovery.
Image from www.bestthinking.com