It appears that chronic stress increases the risk of suffering from various illnesses such as heart disease, the flu, colds and even allergies. But exactly how does stress lead to health problems?
Cortisol is known to play an important role in the process. In times of stress, this hormone provides the body with the burst of energy it needs to react quickly. The downside of that is it also helps suppress the body’s immune response to infections such as colds.
In addition, when levels of cortisol remain elevated over long periods, the body may become less sensitive to it, so it doesn’t produce that jolt of energy that helps us take charge of a situation.
In order to better understand this phenomenon, researchers exposed 276 healthy adults to common cold viruses and then quarantined them for five days. The subjects who had recently been through stressful experiences were most likely to show resistance to cortisol and therefore to catch a cold. In a second phase of the study, the researchers also noted that the participants who were more resistant to cortisol produced more cytokines, immune system hormones associated with more severe cold symptoms.
The impact of stress on our health should not be ignored. While certain stressful situations are often out of our control, there are others we can alter in order to reduce the amount of stress in our life. Take the time to think about your common causes of stress and think about what you can do about it, as it could help improve your quality of life as well as your health!