The Stress Epidemic
Our modern lifestyle has led to an “epidemic of stress” according to the US Surgeon General.
Stress and War
Research has shown that if there is stress on a societal level, it can correlate with higher crime, such as rape, robbery, assault and murder. It can also contribute to war, social violence and terrorism. Conflict management researchers have found that the first stage of the start of a war is usually a period of mounting stress, with tensions increasing politically, ethically or religiously - or in all these areas. Societal stress can lead to violent conflict and war.
“The basis of terrorism and any conflict can be understood in this way: whatever may seem to be the cause, whatever excuses there are, these excuses arise on the surface of the human race only, but the underlying cause is a build-up of stress in the life of the people – stress in world consciousness – and stress is not seen until it bursts out into violence and war. Only by relieving the individual and society of this build-up of stress can we ever hope to prevent war.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Stress and Disease
Stress impacts upon our immune system. Research has shown that if people are stressed, their immune system does not function as well. The stress hormone – corticosteroid – has been found to reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system. If you are stressed, you are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours that can affect the immune system, such as eating unhealthily, drinking too much, or smoking too much.
Kiecolt-Glaser et al (1984) carried out an experiment to investigate whether stress of exams affected the immune system functioning. They took blood samples from 75 medical students. They were taken one month before their final exams when there was relatively low stress and one during the exams, when there was high stress. They measured immune function by measuring T-cell activity in blood samples. Our immune systems are made up of billions of cells that travel through our blood stream. B-cells produce antibodies that are released to destroy invading bacteria and cells in the fluid around cells, whilst T-cells lock on to cells that become infected (i.e. the invader gets inside the cell). The T-cells lock on to the infected cell, multiply and then destroy it.
They also gave questionnaires to the students to look at psychological variables, such as loneliness and life events. They found that the blood sample taken from the students before the exam contained more T-cells than the blood samples taken during the exams.
They also found that students with weak immune responses were those who also reported feeling lonely, experiencing stressful life events and had psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and depression. They therefore concluded that the stress of the exam reduced the effectiveness of the students’ immune systems.
Stress is related to a range of physical conditions, such as headaches, infectious diseases, such as the flu, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes and gastric ulcers.
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