You probably think you're doing everything to stay healthy: exercising on a regular basis, skipping the cake at the office birthday celebration so you are eating right, and getting plenty of sleep each night. But you may be forgetting one important thing: RELAX! Stress has more of an impact on your life than you may realize.
Psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and her partner, Ronald Glaser, an Ohio State University virologist and immunologist, have spent 20-odd years researching how stress affects the immune system, and they have some startling discoveries. Kiecolt-Glaser says stress causes the body to release pro-inflammatory cytokines, immune factors that initiate responses against infections. When the body produces these cytokines over long periods of time-- for instance, as a result of chronic stress-- all sorts of bad things can happen. Not only does it hamper our body's ability to fight infection and heal wounds, but chronic inflammation also increases our risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases including type 2 diabetes.
Addtionally, Kiecolt-Glaser's research has shown because regular stress causes a chronic immune response, it can also increase a person's risk for allergies, which can occur when the body elicits a chronic immune response against something that's not really dangerous (like pollen). In her recently study, Kiecolt-Glaser found that when people are under lots of stress-- for instance, when they are forced to deliver a speech or do difficult math problems on the spot-- their allergies worsen over the course of the next day.
But stress does not only affect adults, but teenagers as well. A recent study conducted by UCLA's professor of psychiatry, Andrew J. Fuligni, shows teenage stress is on the rise. This may sound like no surprise to you, but the long-term affects can be quite detrimental. Fuligni findings show that healthy teenagers are reporting interpersonal conflicts had increased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) an inflammatory marker associated with later development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). He states "Although most research on stress and inflammation has focused upon adulthood, these results show that such links can occur as early as the teenage years, even among a healthy sample of young men and women. That suggests that alterations in the biological substrates that initiate CVD begin before adulthood."
This post may not exactly help with managing your own stress-- worrying about the danger of stress is definitely stressful-- but take a deep breath. Many of us witness firsthand what stress can do to ourselves besides running to the fridge for ice cream or screaming at a driver that cut you off on the freeway. However, there are ways to help manage stress beyond eating right and exercising.
Below I have included some links that are helpful tools for managing stress. If you ask me, learning a few relaxation techniques sounds like a more appealing illness-prevention strategy than many other alternatives. So the next time you are taking a day off work or having a lazy Sunday, think again. Your body will thank you for it.
Stress Management by MayoClinic