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Can psychological stress cause physical illness?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Stress as a fundamental human mechanism for dealing with threats.
    1. General Adaptation Syndrome.
    2. The psychological response.
    3. Chronic stress: the opposite effect on the immune system.
  3. Personality traits and coping styles.
  4. Link between psychological stress and cardiac problems.
  5. Link between psychological stress and Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. Bibliography.

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. [...]

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