Stress And Illness The Effects of Stress on Physical Illness April 17, 2000 #38 Abstract Research has shown a connection between stress and physical illness. Furthermore, who becomes ill under pressure may be regulated by other factors such as personality type. The purpose of this project was to determine if there is a relationship between stress and illness. Another motive for this project was to investigate whether or not correlations between illness, personality type, and/or stress is evident. Twenty-one students in the Writing of Agriculture and Natural Resources class at the University of Florida were surveyed on their perceived level of stress and physical health.
The questionnaire also analyzed their actual life stress level and level of extroversion. The questionnaire was evaluated and classified by personality types, health, and stress levels. This study was expected to reveal that people who experience higher levels of stress would also experience higher rates of physical illness compared to people with lower levels of stress. The rates of illness in people who experience higher levels of stress may vary between perceived stress (how stressed one actually feels) and actual stress (as defined by specific life events). Specifically, people who report higher levels of perceived stress will experience higher rates of physical illness regardless of the number of actual stressful life events experienced (actual stress).
In addition, personality types, such as people who are characteristically introverted (people who tend to keep to themselves) will tend to manifest signs of stress through physical symptoms more so than people who are characterized as extroverts (more social outgoing). The results of my survey suggested that a correlation exists between stress and illness; and illnesses were exacerbated when the subjects indicated a characteristically introverted personality. There was further indication that subjects with an extroverted personality had signs of stress related illnesses. Overall, ninety-nine percent of the students who responded to the questionnaire revealed they had relatively high levels of stress and experienced various poor health frequently. Introduction Stress and illness are no strangers to many. As many as 25 percent of the US population suffers from the negative effects of stress, and approximately 50 percent of all general medical patients are suffering from stress related problems (Everly, 1989).
Several studies conducted confirm that stress is positively correlated with incidences of physical illness (DeVito, 1994). It is also becoming common knowledge that many physical diseases are either related to or can be exacerbated by excessive stress. Stress reduction is becoming a part of treatment and prevention of many diseases. Even insurance companies are paying for programs such as ones that reverse heart disease, which include learning stress reduction techniques . Many studies have tried to link and explain the role of the immune system in the human stress response.
The issue has even been given its own term, psychoneuroimmunology, meaning the study of the “direct causal relationship between stress and illness” (DeVito, 1994). For example, a study looking at wound repair in caregivers vs. non-caregivers found that caregivers, who were under significantly more stress than non caregivers, took an average of nine days longer to heal than non caregivers (Keicolt-Glaser, Marucha, Malarkey, Mercado, and Glaser, 1995). This study cited differences in the chemical immunological responses between the two groups. There is no single recipe for managing stress, but utilizing fundamental coping mechanisms can help calm your mind. We cannot change who we are, our jobs, or families, but we can change our perceptions.
The first step is to become more aware of the situation and environment. What causes your stress? How do you respond? By answering these questions, you can begin to modify your situation. Some suggestions to reduce stress are to exercise; it strengthens the heart and lungs while bathing the brain in endorphins to reduce pain. You can also practice stress management techniques ranging from prayer, to biofeedback, to simple walks on the beach to feel inner peace. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and investing in hobbies and leisure activities can do the same and more. Literature Review My review of the current literature indicated a link between stress and illness.
However, it was unclear whether or not illness is more likely to be related to perceived stress, rather than actual life events which are considered stressful. Personality may also factor in the relationship between stress and illness. Correlations between illness, personality type, and/or stress have been found. For example, the Type A personality has been associated with a higher incidence of heart disease. Neuroticism has also been linked to higher incidences of stress related illness (Hoffman, Levy-Shiff, and Malinski, 1996).
An investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a lack of diverse social contacts was correlated with greater risks of colds. This risk outweighed other factors such as smoking, low vitamin C intake or elevated stress hormones (“Harvard Health Letter”, 1998). People who are more likely to have social contact probably score higher on scales of extroversion, which indicate an outgoing, sociable personality. Studies of extroversion have shown that this trait may ameliorate the negative effects of stressful events (Hoffman, Levy-Shiff, and Malinski, 1996). Therefore, it is the opinion of this author that people who score higher on the aspect of extroversion will experience fewer physical ailments related to life stress than people who are less extroverted. However, can it be said with certainty that everyone or even most people who experience severe stress can expect to fall victim to stress? The answer is not so cut and dry. Evidence suggests that other factors such as perception of the stressful event and personality type may also play a role in the stress-illness connection.
Persons who perceive they are under more stress may react to it more strongly than persons who do not necessarily perceive the same situation stressful. The perception of stress is what causes the body to prepare for an emergency by producing certain hormones such as adrenaline, which has an effect on a broad rage body systems (DeVito, 1994). I Methods/Materials Students in the Writing for Agriculture and Natural Resources class were needed to complete a questionnaire to initiate this project. The survey examined 21 subjects of a variety of ages gathering specific information about the relationships between actual stress (as defined by life events that have occurred over the past year), perceived stress (how stressed you actually feel), physical illness, and the personality dimension of extroversion-introversion. The survey began by asking demographic information such as age and sex.
The next series of questions consisted of 11 personality-type question …