This time of year, everyone seems to be sick in one form or another. In fact, this year’s flu season has been one of the worst on record. While there’s rarely a good time to catch a cold, some people seem to have worse luck than others. Do you start to feel sick right before that big presentation? Or develop stomach flu-like symptoms after you pick up extra hours at work? It’s not a coincidence—it’s your body reacting to stress.
The Science of Stress
A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan examined how stress receptors in the brain connect to the immune system. By examining how mice reacted to both psychological stress, as well as allergies, with varying levels of a key neurological component, researchers were able to determine a level of connection they had only suspected previously.
They narrowed their scope down to one particular corticotropin-releasing factor, or CRF1, and how it communicated directly with immune cells to affect the body’s natural defenses against disease. Mice with an active CRF1 had significantly higher levels of illness following exposure to stress, while those without this component present in their cells had lower histamine levels and symptoms of disease overall.
While this may not seem significant, it could have huge implications for people with chronic conditions, like asthma, that are especially triggered by stress. It’s not a cure at this point, but rather an important step in uncovering the neuroscientific link that could lead to future treatments. To learn more about this particular discovery, visit: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180110132958.htm.
Everyday Signs of Stress
Even people without chronic conditions can be affected by this connection, though they might not be aware of it. Usually the body exhibits certain indications of stress that could easily be mistaken for something else. For example, digestive issues including upset stomachs and diarrhea are heavily linked to stress. It can cause your body to produce more stomach acid, affect how quickly your food gets digested, and even control your colon. However, many people assume it’s something they ate, rather than their lifestyle, causing these problems.
Your skin is another area that acts as a warning sign for stress. Neurologically, it can trigger more oil and sweat production, which, in turn, leads to pimples and breakouts. Worse than that, some individuals develop stress hives or rashes that are itchy and inconvenient, if not downright painful. As we mentioned, if you’ve already been diagnosed with a chronic condition, like eczema or psoriasis, you could be especially sensitive to anxiety. Stress can stimulate nerve endings in the skin leading to flare ups and worsening present symptoms—even cold sores.
Weight fluctuations can also indicate your body’s responding to stress. The same cortisol levels that suppress the immune system additionally impact appetite. For some, it triggers hunger and overeating because your body is trying to prepare for a perceived attack (i.e. stress) with more fuel. In others, anxiety sparks the opposite reaction, causing food to seem unappealing and, eventually, leading to weight loss. Significant swings in either direction should be a cause for concern. Whether you end up gaining or losing weight will just depend on your individual neurochemistry.
This list goes on and on, including the expected (like tension headache/migraines) and the unexpected, including back pain. To learn more, read on at https://www.parents.com/parenting/moms/healthy-mom/10-weird-ways-stress-makes-you-sick/.
Coping with Stress
Approaching a complicated problem, such as anxiety, and searching for treatment options isn’t an easy endeavor. You can treat the physical expressions individually, as they occur, but if you don’t tackle the underlying cause, they’re likely to recur.
At Focal Points, we believe in a holistic approach that varies from individual to individual, much as indicators of stress do. We help you find the source(s) of stress in your life through different therapy options and then work together to determine solutions. Often simply removing the source isn’t an option, so we teach you techniques to help you cope. Consult one of our licensed professionals to see how we can address your particular situation, and be proactive about improving your overall health.