Chronic stress is linked to the development of many psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. A large body of research also indicates that stress is linked to a variety of physical problems, including cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, genital herpes, periodontal disease, yeast infections, and the common cold, to name just a few.
Stress affects the functioning of the immune system, as do age, nutrition, and genetic factors. The immune system is the body’s defense against harmful agents such as bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. It communicates constantly with the brain and the endocrine system. The immune system has many different kinds of disease-fighting cells, including B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes, and macrophages:
Stress affects the immune system in many ways. For instance, hormones that are released in response to stress can inhibit the activity of lymphocytes.
Researchers have linked negative emotional states to disease.
Recent research suggests that depression makes people more vulnerable to heart disease.
Researchers have identified a type of personality, called the type A personality, that is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. People with type A personalities tend to be competitive, impatient, easily angered, and hostile. People with type B personalities, on the other hand, are relaxed, patient, easygoing, and amiable.
Type A personalities may be more prone to heart disease for several reasons:
Hostility, a key type A personality feature, relates most to increased risk of heart disease. A tendency to get angry easily is associated not only with heart disease but also impaired immune function and high blood pressure.
People who have a tendency to suppress emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger have a higher risk of becoming ill than people who can acknowledge and express their feelings.
People’s lifestyles can endanger their health. Three features of problematic lifestyles include smoking, not exercising, and eating poorly.
Smoking increases the risk of many cardiovascular and lung diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, bronchitis, and emphysema. Smoking also increases the risk of cancers of the lung, mouth, bladder, kidney, larynx, esophagus, and pancreas. Although formal smoking cessation programs don’t help most people quit, many people eventually do stop smoking. Research shows that many people quit only after several unsuccessful attempts.
Lack of exercise can also have strong negative effects. Regular exercise leads to longer life expectancy, promotes cardiovascular health, decreases obesity-related problems such as diabetes and respiratory problems, and decreases the risk of colon, breast, and reproductive system cancers.
Research shows that bad eating habits contribute to health problems:
Once people develop symptoms of illness, their behavior influences whether their health will improve or worsen. People’s behavior can have an impact at three different stages.
People who are highly anxious, who score high on the personality trait of neuroticism, who are very health-conscious, and who are very aware of bodily sensations tend to report more physical symptoms than other people.
Delaying seeking medical help can have serious consequences, as early diagnosis can improve the treatment of many health problems. Despite this, people often delay seeking medical help for several reasons:
People often have trouble communicating effectively with health care providers. Communication difficulties frequently happen for the following reasons:
People’s chances of recovery decrease if they don’t adhere to the treatment regimens that their health care providers prescribe. People don’t adhere to medical advice for three main reasons: