Ever since becoming a SAHM, I find that my stress levels have been bordering on the high side more consistently and frequently compared to my days in the corporate world. As an employee, I've had my share of stress but they came in bursts and lasted maybe a week or two. As a wife and mother, stressful moments are almost a daily affair.
This article, 'An Overview of How Stress Kills and How to Develop Your StresSkills' by Cindie Leonard is quite informative. The author has a Master's degree in Psychology and specializes in research.
She gives an overview of stress and outlines the mind-body connection.
The Mind/Body Connection
One of the key principles in psychoneuroimmunology (mind/body medicine) is the interrelatedness of the mind and the body. It used to be believed that the mind and body were separate entities, but current research is proving otherwise. I need to keep emphasizing this fact, because when you allow stress to affect your life, you are allowing it to influence every organ, every cell of your body. That is a high price to pay.
"The mind steadfastly refuses to behave locally, as contemporary scientific evidence is beginning to show. We now know, for example, that brain-like tissue is found throughout the body... So, even from the conservative perspective of modern neurochemistry, it is difficult if not impossible to follow a strictly local view of the brain." - Larry Dossey, M.D.
The following experiment is phenomenal. In 1993, under the direction of the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), scientists conducted an experiment that demonstrated that our cells, even outside of our body, will still respond to our emotions. "White blood cells (leukocytes) scraped from the mouth of a volunteer were centrifuged and placed in a test tube. A probe from a recording polygraph –- a lie (or emotion) detector -– was then inserted into the tube. The donor of the cheek cells was seated in a room separate from his donated cells and shown a television program with many violent scenes. Then the volunteer watched scenes of fighting and killing. The probe from the polygraph detected extreme excitation in the mouth cells even though they were in a room down the hall. Subsequent repeats of this test experiment with donor and cells separated up to fifty miles and up to two days after donation of the cells showed the same results. The donated cells remained energetically and non-locally connected with their donor and seemed to 'remember' where they came from."
Paul Pearsall, Ph.D, author of The Heart's Code: The Findings About Cellular Memories and Their Role in the Mind/Body/Spirit Connection.
Dr. Pearsall's brilliant book explores and illuminates the fascinating and clinically documented stories of transplant patients. For example, one eight-year-old girl received the heart of a ten-year-old girl who was murdered. The girl who received the heart had dreams about the murderer, so vivid that she was able to describe the murderer to police. The time, weapon, clothes he wore, and place were so accurate, the man was convicted upon her testimony.
I site these studies because they demonstrate that our emotions are not just in our mind, they are in every cell of our bodies. Therefore, we must monitor the stress in our lives and honor our innate abilities to heal ourselves. If the heart thinks, the cells remember. The power of your thoughts on your health is profound.
It also says that research has shown that prolonged stress can produce actual tissue changes and organ dysfunction. With the new MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) techniques, scientists are able to prove visibly that chronic stress can shrink an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. Researchers have found that the brains of war veterans, as well as women who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse, have a marked reduction in the size of their hypothalamus.
Stress also affects your brain by releasing powerful chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (also called adrenaline). The hypothalamic/pituitary-adrenal portion of your brain releases steroid hormones, including the primary stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol affects systems throughout your body, including an increased heart rate.
Your heart, lungs, and circulatory system are influenced by the increased heart rate. Blood flow may increase 300 to 400 percent. Blood pressure increases and breathing becomes rapid. Your mouth and throat may become dry. Skin may become cool and clammy because blood flow is diverted away so it can support the heart and muscle tissues. Even digestive activity shuts down.
Once again, occasional stress is normal. Once you've handled the situation, the stress goes away and you heal from the episode. But, if stressors accumulate over time, eventually the body becomes inefficient at handling even the least amount of stress. The brain, heart, lungs, vessels, and muscles become so chronically over or under activated that they become damaged. It is this sort of stress which may trigger or worsen heart disease, strokes, susceptibility to infection, sleep disturbances, sexual and reproductive dysfunction, memory and learning dysfunction, digestive problems, weight problems, diabetes, pain, and skin disorders.
"Extensive multidisciplinary studies have presented unequivocal evidence that our psychological responses to stress and our perceptions of stress to a considerable extent affect our susceptibility to disease. In active relationship, the immune, neuroendocrine, and nervous systems respond to the brain and psyche. Virtually all illnesses, from the flu to cancer, are influenced for good or bad by our thoughts and feelings." - R. Lloyd, 1990 Healing Brain: A Scientific Reader
Depression, fear, anger, hostility, and other negative emotions depress the immune system. The immune system is our first line of defense against infections, germs, and bacteria. The neurotransmitters that help to protect our immune system are inhibited by stress.
"Severe emotions impair the immune system, while release from panic or despair frequently increase interleukins, vital substances in the immune system that help activate cancer-killing immune cells." - Norman Cousins, 1990
I like the way the writer ended her article:
Last, but definitely not least, health is much more than the absence of illness. Live in an unselfish way that promotes a feeling of belonging, loving kindness, and forgiveness. Living like this promotes a state of spiritual bliss that truly helps to prevent illness. Wellness is trusting in the ability and desire of your bodymind to heal and improve itself given half a chance. Take responsibility for your own health -- and illness. Delete phrases like, "My doctor won't let me..." or, "My doctor says I have (name of condition), and there is really nothing I can do" from your speech and thought patterns. Avoid unscientific beliefs about your need for medications and operations."