Stress is a fundamental human coping mechanism for dealing with threats and adjusting to new (often sudden) changes in the demands of the environment. Fundamentally it can be described as an individual's perception of the balance between the demands placed on them and their ability to cope with those demands. Stress is supposed to engage the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) system infrequently and in short bursts, as a survival technique. In this capacity it is highly useful and generally has no long term physiological consequences. It is only when the stress becomes chronic, being activated intensely and frequently, that problems can arise. Seyle (1973) describes the affect of prolonged stress as a three-stage process, which he calls General Adaptation Syndrome' (GAS). The first stage is alarm reaction, in which the fight or flight response is activated, causing blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate to all rise to levels which cannot be maintained long term. The second stage is resistance, this is where the body attempts to compensate for these increased levels, but they remain well above normal.
[...] (2000) Interaction of Psychosocial and physical risk factors in the Causation of Mammary Cancer, and its Prevention Through Psychological Methods of Treatment in Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol 33-50. -Hewson-Bower, B. & Drummond, P.D. (2001) Psychological Treatment for Recurrent Symptoms of Colds and Flu in Children in Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 369-377. - Ioannidou-Mouzaka, L., Mantonakis, J., Toufexi, H., Tsiliakos, S & Agnantis, N.J. (1986). Is Prolonged Psychological Stress an Etiological Factor in Breast Cancer? (translated from French) in Journal de Gynécologie, Obstétriques et Biologie de la Reproduction, Vol 1049- 1053. [...]
[...] This would help to account for the apparent differences that exist in the methods of AIDS transmission in different groups, however the theories involved in the stress/AIDS link are merely speculative at the moment. Conclusion In conclusion it seems that psychological stress does have a role to play in physical illness. It can be seen to directly affect the immune system, as well as influencing the development of cancer and the functions of many bodily systems (such as the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems). It may even be influential in the development of AIDS. However, stress is not seen to cause these problems unaided. [...]
[...] Cox goes on to repeat that this alone is not sufficient to answer the question of whether psychological stress can cause physical illness. He says any study that hoped to answer this question needs to recognise and address a number of fundamental issues. The first is the different types of negative health issues that may result. Second is the possible specificity of effect across types and the third is the different stages in the processes of development, expression and treatment of illness. [...]
[...] In their study of mortality rates in breast cancer sufferers, they found that psychological stress alone was of little significance, but it seemed to potentate the effect of physical factors. Rather than being a direct cause then, stress was shown to be a form of catalyst under these circumstances. In similar work, Ioannidou- Mouzaka et al (1986) found that prolonged psychological stress (involving parameters such as bereavement, familial conflict, and financial problems) is also a significant etiological factor in breast cancer. [...]
[...] The second would seem more likely as a number of hormones released during periods of psychological stress have been directly implicated with the actions of the immune system. These include epinephrine and norepinephrine, catecholamines, and some endorphins. This effect on the immune system has been best highlighted by a number of studies that have examined the role of stress in susceptibilities to common colds and Flu. Cohen et al (1991) had 420 participants compete a questionnaire to assess their individual degrees of psychological stress participants (in the control condition) were then given nasal drops containing saline solution, while the remaining participants were administered nasal drops containing one of five respiratory viruses. [...]
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