WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS ABOUT STRESS AND ILLNESS
Traditional medicine views illness through the eyes of Newton. The cause for our problems is outside of us. Everything for genes to bacteria, the foods we eat, the weather and aging are the cause of our problems. It is hard to accept the idea that the mind is at the source of illness but the evidence clearly shows that it is true.
As early as 1983 Eric Kandel, M.D. showed that thoughts have the power to turn genes on and off. In 2000 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery. His discovery has revolutionized the field of brain rehabilitation.
More recently, Candace Pert (1996) demonstrated the body’s response to our perception of our selves and our circumstances. Her work details the chemicals released into the blood stream in response to various “stressors”. It leaves little room for doubting that the mind influences the body. The chemicals released when we are stressed influence organs including the pituitary, adrenals, thyroid, pancreas, and pineal. Even the kidneys and stomach release hormones in response to stress. The end result of this biochemical activity is premature aging and increased susceptibility to illness.
It has been known for nearly 25 years that stress related hormones actually kill brain cells involved in memory functioning (Sapolsky 1988, McEwen, 1990). Other research has shown that the immune system responds quickly to any kind of emotion. In as little as 20 minutes significant changes in the number of white blood cells are detected in the blood (in Hafen, 1996).
A brief review of the chemistry of the emotion-disease connection is sufficient to give you a taste what we already know to be true. Those interested in a more comprehensive understanding are referred to books detailing these processes (Padus, 1986; Hafen, 1996; Pert (1996); and particularly to Bruce Lipton (2005).
Stress responses follow a predictable course, or series of stages, first outlined by Selye in the first half of the last century. These stages begin with the adrenal glands releasing glucocorticoids (cortisol, cortisone, and catecholamine’s). In excess amounts they weaken the immune system and reduce the body’s resistance to cancer and infections. They cause blood pressure to soar. They cause the stomach to lose resistance to acids. In response to corticosteroids the thymus liberates its own hormones. This accelerates metabolism leading to insomnia, nervousness, and eventual exhaustion. The hypothalamus releases endorphins. These are natural pain killers that in excess amounts have been found to aggravate arthritis pain, back pain, and migraine headaches.
In response to stress sex hormones are reduced, leading to a reduction of sex drive, infertility, sexual dysfunction, and menstrual difficulties. Digestive functions become impaired resulting in abdominal bloating, nausea and diarrhea. Sugar is released into the bloodstream, increasing insulin demand and aggravating diabetes. Cholesterol is released by the liver which in excess amounts is deposited in blood vessels leading to heart disease. The heart beats faster and blood pressure rises which can lead to strokes and bursting aneurysms. The blood thickens and coagulates more quickly leading to the blocked blood vessels, strokes, and heart attacks.
Clearly the body’s response to stress is not good to our long term health. Emotional reactions have an immediate impact on our physical being. Impairments in immune functioning can be measured chemically after a few minutes of strong emotion experience. Below is a partial alphabetical list of physical disorders that have been scientifically shown to be connected to stressful emotions.
It must be noted that research into the role of emotions in illness has been seriously limited by its own assumptions. For example, research into the role that anger plays in illness has lumped together all types of anger. The feelings from mild irritation and annoyance all the way to fury and rage are in one group. The only ones left out are people who act out through open hostility. The meaningful differences in emotions that arise from one’s motives and judgments have not been recognized and taken into account. As a consequence, the differential impact of different types of anger is not evident.
Using Hawkins’ categorization (1995) reveals that there are many types of anger. Despising someone is separate and distinct from the rage of vindictiveness. The condemning hate of apathy, the annoyance and irritation of disdain are also different. Finally the anger we feel toward those who break societies and our rules, the anger of disappointment, and the anger that we feel when someone steps on our pride are further divisions. The same is true for anxiety and depression. Anxiety does not exist alone. What one is afraid of is as important as the fact that you are anxious. “Depression” is sometimes the result of disappointment. Other times depression is sadness and grief. Other times depression comes from believing that life is miserable because we are unloved or rejected. The energy produced at each level of consciousness is different and results in different consequences within the body. Each specific set of after-effects increases the probability of developing specific physical illnesses. Each illness occurs only within the energetic domain at its source.