Several research studies have been conducted in an attempt to find out if there is a link between stress and illness. One of them is titled Negative life events, perceived stress, negative affect, and susceptibility to the common cold, and it involved intentionally exposing subjects to upper respiratory viruses. Three stress scales were administered to healthy individuals followed by experimental exposure to a cold virus. The study aimed at examining the link between each of the stress scales and risk of catching clinical colds as well as evaluating likely pathways via which each of them could influence susceptibility. The researchers then analyzed any differences in terms of the psychological stress components that each scale assessed (Cohen, 1993).
The researchers found out that only stressful events in life were reliably linked to the subjects becoming more prone to colds. In all cases, the link could not be explained by factors perceived to be related to stress, such as gender, age, weight, level of education, health practices, or allergic status. Another finding was that life events could cause illness even when any possible effects of the stress experienced were controlled. A possible shortcoming of this research study is that the researchers only accessed events that could cause negative effects and failed to consider those that could trigger a positive impact. Additionally, it was not possible to account for the link between life events and illness by considering the effect that health practices like taking alcohol and smoking had on stress in subjects. It is possible that the researchers did not identify health practices or perceived stress as mediators since they failed to measure these parameters accurately.
The other research study is titled Spousal caregivers of dementia victims: Longitudinal changes in immunity and health. According to the researchers, offering care for a family member suffering from dementia had a profound effect on the caregivers lives. In the study, they examined changes in immunity, depression, and overall health of caregivers who had been providing care to their spouses for an average period of five years. They then compared the changes to several control subjects who had been socio-demographically matched.
The study found out that caregivers exhibited reductions in all the three parameters used to measure immunity when compared to control subjects. Also, they experienced substantially more instances of suffering from infectious illnesses and sought medical attention on more than controls. There may have been no significant differences in the number of sickness episodes between the two groups. All in all, there was proof that exposure to pathogens occurred less frequently in caregivers. In addition, caregivers reported more instances of syndromal depressive disorders when compared to controls, together with higher severity of depressive symptoms (Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et al, 1991).
The researchers did not find any proof of psychological adaptation. For instance, the caregivers who were always stressed exhibited negative immunological changes that were not present in controls. Also, their physical and mental health was much poorer. The most advanced and uniform decline in immunity was found in the caregivers with the least social support and who were most affected by dementia-induced behaviors. The findings of this study are likely to affect public policy adversely. Dementia happens to be among the top causes of death in America, and those who offer care to patients suffer almost the same level of risk.
In addition to the studies mentioned above, a significant amount of research has been conducted with the aim of highlighting the link between stress and illnesses. According to Dardas & Ahmad (2015), the findings show that stress is a major contributor to the onset and escalation of illnesses, whether physical or mental. Stress is linked to illness due to the manner in which the biological response system of the body reacts to it. Studies conducted on human beings and animals have presented findings that uncontrolled stressors undermine immune defenses while also escalating gastric lesion affinities.
A good example is a three-decade-long study carried out on the highly-stressful job done by air traffic controllers. The study went a long way in proving that, in addition to being a biological effect, illness is also a behavioral/ environmental response. It showed that air traffic controllers suffer from elevated high blood pressure assumed to be due to the highly stressful duties affecting their nervous systems. With time, however, researchers figured out that the high blood pressure resulted from an increase in the amount of alcohol that these individuals consumed. Their health problems were not just as a result of the biological impact of the stress accumulated over the years. It was also caused by the behavioral response of consuming alcohol as a way of coping with stress. While stress may not have caused the condition directly, it did trigger some behavioral responses in the professionals (Praskurnichey et al, 2016).
Stress is inevitable and is something that every person experiences in life at one point or another. The thin line between carrying our stressful tasks and putting ones health at risk is all about how an individual deals with the stress. It is advisable for people who work in highly stressful situations to find ways of relieving stress that suits them. Such means should not involve negative behavioral responses as is the case with air traffic controllers consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
Cohen, S. et al (1993) Negative life events, perceived stress, negative affect, and susceptibility to the common cold. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 131-140.
Dardas, L. A., & Ahmad, M. M. (2015). Coping strategies as mediators and moderators between stress and quality of life among parents of children with autistic disorder. Stress and Health, 31(1), 5-12.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et al (1991) Spousal caregivers of dementia victims: longitudinal changes in immunity and health. Psychosomatic Medicine.
Nica, E., & Potcovaru, A. M. (2015). Gender-typical Responses to Stress and Illness. Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management, 3(2), 65-70.
Praskurnichey, E. A., Morozkina, I. V., Yustova, V. D., Bystrova, A. G., Kniga, V. V., & Posokhov, I. N. (2016). [PP. LB01. 12] The features of diurnal blood pressure profile in air traffic controllers in civil aviation. Journal of Hypertension, 34, e200.
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