Why stress causes illness

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Stressed woman
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Recognizing and offsetting the effects of stress

Daily living is full of things that cause us to feel pressure and stress. Parenting, jobs, bills and even grocery shopping are simple things that (surprisingly) can wreak havoc on your body's immune system. Although taking vitamins and nutritional supplements helps tremendously, a compromised immune system is one of the main reasons why stress causes illness.

A Natural Thing

Stress is a natural reaction and in many cases healthy for the body. The demands placed on the body during stressful situations causes the body's fighting mechanisms to engage and strengthen the immune defenses. There are some situations however when it is not healthy and prolonged stress can actually be more harmful than helpful.

The reaction of the body to conditions of prolonged stress is illness. Prolonged illnesses can often lead to psychological disorders and disease. This includes depression, anxiety, colds, flu, etc. There are numerous reasons why stress causes illness. Finding the main reason for the cause can help eliminate or reduce its effects on the body.

Stressful Conditions

Various events in a person's life creates pressure and stress. Some are positive, some negative, but many environmental demands on the body is why stress causes illness. Any type of change in a person's life, good or bad, is stressful. It can be a result of natural situations or elective conditions, things that are out of your control. Some examples of stressful situations include:

  • Natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, fires)
  • Life changes or crises (births, deaths, marriage, divorce, automobile accidents)
  • Daily hassles (traffic, cooking, working, parenting)
  • Disease (common illnesses, burns, cancer)
  • Exercise (high-intensity and high-impact exercises that shocks the body)

The Body's Reaction

The human body is equipped to deal with stressors by enabling a "fight-or-flight" response. The body reacts aggressively and proactively against threats of stress. It prepares itself for protection. During this period, whenever the body is faced with stressful situations it reacts by:

  • Increasing the heart rate. The brain signals the heart to divert more blood flow to certain areas.
  • Accelerating breathing patterns. The body is protecting itself from becoming overheated and passing out.
  • Tensing muscles. This is in preparation to react by running or either fighting.

The Results of Stress

If there are continued stressors on the body, the immune system deteriorates and renders it unable to cope. It cannot fight against germs invading the body because there is a breakdown of bodily resources. The longer periods of time that stressors are on the body, the likelier it is that a person will become ill and remain ill.

To overcome the effects of stress, minimize the amount of time (if possible) that you are exposed to the situation. In many cases this is unavoidable. But if it is manageable, the body will have time to recuperate and heal itself. Another remedy is sufficient nutrition and rest. These help strengthen the body's immune system and equips it to maintain itself in stressful situations. Stress is a part of daily living. However, it can be managed effectively by recognizing the signs of being overstressed and being proactive before other problems occur.

Stress and Illness
Stress and Death
Stress-Induced Illnesses

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