Illness and Stress

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Psychology ・APA ・9 Sources

Salleh, (2008) defined stress as a process in which environmental requirements strain the adaptive ability of an organism, resulting in both biological changes and psychological requirements that could put disease at risk. Stress appears to affect all, whether old or young, poor or wealthy. The association between disease and stress is the primary subject of a number of studies currently being conducted in the field of health psychology. Understanding the psychological factors contributing to the etiology of the disease is one of the fields of great concern (Herbert & Cohen, 2004). One of these factors often studied is stress since a number of people believe that it is related to disease and illness. In fact, a lot of evidence exists which support the fact that there is some association between increased stress and symptoms of the disease (Harrington, 2012). Besides, provocative evidence exists showing the associations between verified organic illness and increased stress. Three perspectives or theories regarding stress, they include emotional (psychological) stress, biological stress and environmental stress.

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Stress and the immune System

The immune system is one of the parts of the body that is affected negatively by stress. The psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) brought a lot of insights and understanding between the nervous system, the brain and the immune response. Dr. Robert Ader developed PNI in the year 1964, it involves the study of the complex interaction of the brain, central nervous system (neuro), consciousness (psycho) and the body’s defense against external infection (Eysenck, 2004).

A number of researchers have indicated that chronic stress applies immunosuppressive effects which suppresses the ability of the body to commence efficient immune reaction. This failure has been led to the release of excess corticosteroids by the body during stressful situations and it produces an imbalance in the levels of the corticosteroid levels leading to the weakening of the immunocompetence (Salleh, 2008). It is this declining of the immune function that is related to the strain on the different parts of the body responsible for the maintenance and production of the immune body fluids. Two hundred and ninety three independent meta-analysis studies carried out between the year 1960 and 2001, involving 18,941 participants taking parts confirmed that stress is responsible for altering the body immunity. The analyses showed that the most chronic stressors capable of changing people social roles and beyond their control, causing a dropped in immune function across the board on the participants.

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The Link between Stress and Illness

Chronic effect witnessed over time is the critical factor associated with stress in the body. The chronic stressors includes work overload, marital argument, daily hassles and family issues. A number of things are responsible for causing stress in daily life, but the one listed are the most common ones (Salleh, 2008). The anger within our bodies aimed at these scenarios or the resentment and guilt people hold on others produce a similar negative effect on the hypothalamus. Some people tend to hold on these type of stress, hence, causing a cumulative effect on the body.
Most of the psychological research indicates that each system of the body is influenced by the chronic stress. Whenever this type of stress is unrealized in the body, it suppresses the immune system of the body and finally manifest itself through illness (Weiten, 2016). Stress puts the body in the continuous state of “the fight-or-fight response”, but in normal circumstances, only three minutes after the body relaxed from threatening situation and the danger eliminated, the flight-or-fight response settles and the body relaxes before returning normally (Weiten, Dunn, & Hammer, 2014). At this time of the response blood pressure, digestion, metabolism, and heart rate return normally. But if the stressful situation continues after the initial “fight-or flight” reactions, the reactions of the body moves to the second stage.

At the second stage, the sympathetic nervous system activity reduces and the discharge of the adrenaline is reduced, but the secretion of the corticosteroid goes on at a higher level (Coon & Mitterer, 2012). If the stressful situation continues, the body would not be in a position to cope, increasing the chances of the breakdown of the bodily resources. Traumatic stressful situation triggers either biological or behavioral processes which contribute to the start of illness (Backman, 2013). The chronic illness is the one responsible for increased levels of illness, given the impact it has on the immune system. Long term introduction to chronic stress leads to unending and long-term biological, behavioral and psychological reactions which changes progression process to illness. The people who either had a work related stress or interpersonal chronic stress for more than one month had a higher risk of developing colds as compared to those who did develop chronic stress (Cohen, Frank, Doyle, Skoner, & Rabin, 1998).

Cobb and Rose 1973 provided evidence which link stress and hypertension. They used men working as airmen and air traffic controllers. The study analyzed the annual medical records of the participants and found out that the hypertension rate among the air traffic controllers was higher as compared to that of the airmen. This was as a result of the high traffic density which strains these men(Cohen, Frank, Doyle, Skoner, & Rabin, 1998). The men who were working at the airport with a lot of traffic are the one who posted higher level of hypertension as compared to their counterparts working in ports with lower traffic density.


The paper focused on the relationship between stress and illness. The various studies and literature that has been provided in the paper has proved that stress could be responsible for the illness. But it is not entirely the sole cause of illness among the humans since other factors also contribute to illness. Chronic stress is the type of stress, which studies have found out to be the major contributor of illness, it significantly affects the immune system of the person, opening loopholes for the disease to attack the person. As a result, I can firmly state that stress is linked to illness since there are a lot of studies such as Cobb and Rose 1973 and many more meta-analysis which found that stress causes illness among the human beings. At the same time, even though the association between illness and stress is often studied by the psychologists, it is just a small portion of the psychological factors and the disease (Herbert & Cohen, 2004). So there is a need to carry out more studies to unravel the causes of the illness, since it is only not stress which causes illness among the human beings.

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Backman, M. (2013). The psychology of the physically Ill patient: A Clinician’s guide. New Jersey: Springer Science & Business Media.
Cohen, S., Frank, E., Doyle, W. J., Skoner, D. P., & Rabin, B. S. (1998). Types of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in healthy adults. Health Psychology, 4(1), 214-223.
Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2012). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior with concept maps and reviews. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning.
Eysenck, M. W. (2005). Psychology for AS level. New York: Taylor & Francis Publishers.
Harrington, R. (2012). Stress, health and well-being: Thriving in the 21st Century. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning.
Herbert, T. B., & Cohen, S. (2004). Stress and illness. Pennsylvania: Carnegie Mellon University.
Salleh, M. R. (2008). Life event, stress and illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, 7(6), 9-18.
Weiten, W. (2016). Psychology: Themes and variations. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning
Weiten, W., Dunn, D. S., & Hammer, E. Y. (2014). Psychology applied to modern life: Adjustment in the 21st Century. New Jersey: Cengage Learning.

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