Stress blog

Stressed today, sick tomorrow

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. November 20, 2009

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

At a recent workshop, a professor asked participants to draw a line about 6 inches long on a piece of paper and then divide the line into 12 parts. Each part signified a month of the preceding year. Attendees were then asked to place a mark next to each month in which they had an illness that affected their quality of life. It could be minor, such as an intestinal upset, a skin reaction or a migraine, or something more serious, such as a condition requiring surgery. Participants were then asked to think back on whether a stressful event preceded the illness.

What were the results? Not surprisingly, most participants acknowledged that illness often followed a period of stress. The connection between stress and illness has been demonstrated in many medical studies. One such study found that healthy adults exposed to a cold virus were twice as likely to get sick if they reported being under stress. Research has also demonstrated that people in high-pressure situations, such as astronauts, students and athletes, have more upper respiratory infections than other groups.

Does this resonate with your experience? It is an important question because if we can anticipate stressful events in our lives, we can take precautions to keep ourselves healthy, such as staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and being vigilant about hand washing.

What else can we do to inoculate ourselves against stress-related illness?


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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8 Comments Posted

Nov. 20, 2009