The Science of Stress, Emotions, & Disease

Did anyone ever tell you not to “stress yourself out” or you will make yourself sick? Some of us may have laughed, thinking that one had nothing to do with the other. Well, there may be more weight to those statements than we thought.

In the 50s, doctors began to see the connection between stress and physical health. They worked on links between the central nervous system and the immune system, stating that immune molecules made in the blood can trigger brain function and profoundly affect our emotions, allowing us to be more susceptible to illness.

The part of the brain that controls how we respond to stress also plays a role in being susceptible and resistant to inflammatory diseases. We often see patients with these illnesses battling depression; one issue ultimately leading to a predisposition in the other.

Emotional memories also bring upon hormonal stress. Past memories dictate the direction of new, associated memories. Based on the old memory, a new memory can become negative or positive. The stress responses, which also vary, can be stimulating or draining- pushing us even farther into the negative of positive response. Extended exposure to negative responses can lead to extreme exhaustion or burnout. Many times, not only mental burnout, but there have been studies that show even your cortisol levels bottom out, leaving you physically burned out as well. These responses can also cause changes in the reproductive system changes in bone structure, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

An extreme example of memory modulating stress is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. In studies, Holocaust survivors, and their children born after, exhibited a similar hormonal stress response.

It is theorized that these individuals subconsciously taught their children a common style of stress-responsiveness. It also suggests hormonal stress responses permanently changed the parents’ biology and were transmitted via DNA to their children.

Throughout all of the studies and resulting information, the most important take-away is that stress can result in emotional and physical damage, so it is imperative that we find ways to reduce the stress levels in our lives and keep ourselves healthy all around.