How Stress Makes You Sick
What Stress Can Do
Like JuVette, most of us don't know that stress can affect so many different parts of our bodies, from our muscles and tissues to our blood vessels and organs. It speeds up heart rate and respiration, raises blood pressure and body temperature, and can interfere with metabolism, appetite, digestion, sexuality, fertility, and sleep. It can shut down a woman's menstrual cycle, perhaps triggering early menopause, and can decrease a man's production of testosterone, impairing his fertility. New research suggests that high levels of stress during pregnancy can actually make a woman's children more sensitive to stress. Stress weakens our immune system, can exacerbate depression, and impairs our memory by shrinking a crucial part of our brain, perhaps permanently. It can make us fat and, if allowed to progress unchecked, stress can contribute to such life-threatening conditions as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.The science supporting these conclusions is now unequivocal. "We know stress can kill," says Esther Sternberg, MD, chief of the section on neuroendocrine immunology and behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health, in Bethesda, Maryland. "If the body doesn't have a chance to recuperate, the effects of stress compound, with a longer-lasting and more harmful effect on our health." In fact, chronic stress, defined as ongoing worries that continue over several months or longer, may shorten life expectancy by 15 to 20 years, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.