Researchers have been looking at the relationship between stress and disease for over a hundred years. They have observed and concluded that people suffering from stress-related disorders tend to show hyperactivity in a particular “preferred system,” or “stress-prone system,” such as the skeletomuscular, cardiovascular, or gastrointestinal system. For example, chronic stress can result in muscle tension and fatigue in some people. For others, it can contribute to high blood pressure, migraine headaches, ulcers, or chronic diarrhea.
Almost every system in the body can be damaged by stress. When an increase in corticoids suppresses the reproductive system, this can cause amenorrhea and failure to ovulate in women, impotency in men, and loss of libido in both.
Stress-triggered changes in the lungs increase the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. Loss in insulin during the stress response may be a factor in the onset of adult diabetes. Stress suspends the body’s tissue repair mechanism which, in turn, causes decalcification of the bones, osteoporosis, and susceptibility to fractures.
The inhibition of immune and inflammatory systems makes you more susceptible to colds and flu and can exacerbate some specific diseases such as cancer and AIDS. In addition, a prolonged stress response can worsen conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, and diabetes. There are also some indications that the continued release and depletion of norepinephrine during a state of chronic stress can contribute to depression and anxiety.
The relationship between chronic stress, disease, and aging is another fascinating area of research. Experts in aging are examining changing patterns of disease and the increased appearance of degenerative disorders.
Over just a few generations, the threat of infectious diseases such as typhoid, pneumonia, and polio has been replaced with such “modern plagues” as cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, respiratory disorders like asthma and emphysema, and a pervasive incidence of depression. As you age normally, you expect a natural slowing down of your body’s functioning. But many of these mid- to late-life disorders are stress-sensitive diseases.
Currently, researchers and clinicians are asking how stress accelerates the aging process and what can be done to counteract these pernicious and debilitating products of an over-stressed lifetime of worry and prolonged anxiety.
Check out these events and create your own schedule of recent stress experiences!
The higher your total score, the greater your risk of developing stress-related symptoms or illnesses. Of those with a score of over 100 for the past year, almost 80 percent will get sick in the near future; of those with a score of 50-100, about 50 percent will get sick in the near future; and of those with a score of 15-50, only about 30 percent will get sick in the near future. A score of less than 15 indicates that you have a low chance of becoming ill. So, the higher your score, the harder you should work to stay well.
Because individuals vary in their perception of a given life event as well as in their ability to adapt to change, we recommend that you use this standardized test only as a rough predictor of your increased risk.
Stress can be cumulative. Events from two years ago may still be affecting you now. If you think that past events may be a factor for you, repeat this test for the events of the preceding year and compare your scores.