Stress & the Mind Body Connection
28th July, 2009
We’ve all heard that stress can be damaging to our health. Most people think that the symptoms of stress are acute; high blood pressure, sleep problems, inability to focus. But I would argue that stressful states of mind (including depression and chronic anxiety) are the culprit of many long-lasting and more serious illnesses.
How does stress lead to serious illness? Dr. Sapolsky, a leading neuroendocrinologist who studies stress and neural degeneration, describes the effects of stress like this: if you’re a zebra, and a hungry lion is chasing you, the adrenaline makes you run faster, think quicker, and helps you remember how you saved your skin the last time.
However, zebras, and most other mammals for that matter, don’t suffer chronic stress the way humans do. Once the zebra escapes, his stress is over, and he goes back to living life in the present-because he knows no other way. Zebras don’t have mortgages, traffic jams, or unpaid overtime.
They don’t worry about paying the bills, getting sick, or being accepted into a good university. All of these stresses that humans deal with on a day to day basis create chronic stress - and simply put, the human body is not designed to withstand chronic stress.
This topic hit close to home for me shortly after leaving University. My friend was often sick; when she got a common cold or ear infection, it would escalate to the point of hospitalisation. Her body could not properly fight off infection. Doctors thought she had an immune disorder - they also diagnosed her with a seizure disorder. At one point she was on anti-seizure medicine, regular doses of antibiotics, anti-depressants, and medicine to help her sleep - all by the age of 20!
After making some serious changes in her life in regards to chronic stress, including removing herself completely from the stressful environment she was in, her health has improved immensely. She has never slept better, been happier, and enjoyed such good health as she does now.
If you are experiencing unexplained illnesses/disorders or issues that you think are related to stress or anxiety, first and foremost, talk to a doctor! Know that you can use your mind to help heal yourself; meditating, positive affirmations, exercise, and humour are all ways to combat stress. Most of all, happiness and contentment are paramount to living healthy lives with healthy bodies.
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