Stress is an integrated part of life and something that motivates us to keep on going. However, when we do not lead a balanced existence, characterized by chronic stress, it is possible that we also become ill. This is especially true for emotional stress, which is deeply connected to feelings of anxiety and depression. The more stressed we are, the more cortisol is produced at the level of the brain, which in turn favors the appearance of chronic conditions and disrupts the proper functioning of the immune system.
Stress and illness
A very simple definition of the stress concept refers to the discrepancy between the situations a person has to go through and the resources he/she is equipped with. According to a scientific article published in the Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, there is a very strong connection between chronic stress and the appearance of different illnesses.
The authors draw attention to the vicious circle one goes through when experiencing intense emotional stress. This leads to feelings of anxiety and depression, which in turn can influence physical health. The influence can appear in the form of immune system depression (increased susceptibility to illness) or as a change in behavior (negative patterns). The negative changes regarding the physical health will cause more emotional stress, completing thus the vicious circle.
Stress and cortisol
According to a scientific article published in the Berkeley Scientific Journal, the presence of emotional stress triggers the production of increased quantities of cortisol at the level of the brain. This is also known as the stress hormone and, in large quantities, it can be quite detrimental for both mental and physical health. Cortisol can prevent the immune system from functioning in a proper manner, which means that one remains vulnerable to a wide range of medical conditions and especially infections.
The effect of cortisol at the level of the central nervous system is to be taken into consideration as well. It has been discovered that it can actually interfere with sleep quality and quantity; people who are chronically stressed have trouble sleeping and they suffer from mood swings at the same time. It is important to also understand that certain emotional events, whether positive or negative, can increase the production of cortisol in the brain. The perception of emotional stress is an additional factor to be considered, especially with regard to significant moments in one’s life.
How to cope with emotional stress
These are some suggestions on how to cope with emotional stress in an efficient manner:
- Keep an active schedule, so that you take your mind off potential stressors
- Talk to someone about your emotions or, at least, write them down in a journal
- Meditation & mindfulness – can help you relax and reduce the stress experienced
- Find things for which you are grateful – this will help you see life from a different perspective
- Interact with other people – social isolation only makes matters worse.
To answer the initial question, yes, emotional stress can make you ill. It is important to acknowledge your emotions and try to identify what are your worst stressors. Talk to someone about the things you are going through, whether a friend or a specialist – what matters is that you open up and find the best coping strategies for your individual situation.