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Stress: Hazardous For Your Health

Stress can be caused by a variety of physical or psychological causes, and everyone knows from experience the kinds of issues that are likely to bring on stress - things that scare, annoy or irritate us or make us anxious from time to time.

But when stress becomes a constant, chronic factor in one's life, it usually becomes a physical as well as an emotional problem, reports medical contributor Dr. Emily Senay on The Early Show.

Increased stress can raise blood pressure and weaken the immune system. But stress may do more than just make us more vulnerable to catching a cold. There is new evidence that it also interferes with a vital function of the immune system.

Researchers compared 25 parents of children who had cancer with 25 parents of healthy children. Understandably, the parents of kids with cancer reported more psychological distress than the control group. But they also showed reduced sensitivity to the hormone responsible for turning on the immune system's response to an infection that causes inflammation.

These findings suggest chronic psychological stress could put people at higher risk of conditions that involve excessive inflammation, like allergic reactions, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, and infectious and rheumatologic illnesses.

The good news found by the researchers was that social support did much to ease the immune system consequences of caring for a child with cancer.

Stress Reducers:

If you can't get rid of the source of stress, there are some very effective ways to boost general well-being and better cope with stress.

Exercise, good nutrition, psychotherapy to develop coping mechanisms, and medications can all help tremendously.

The important thing is to realize that there is a lot of help available. You have to find the approach that's right for you as an individual. For some people, it's working out; for others, it may be meditation.

Warning signs of chronic stress:

It varies from person to person, but there are some signs to watch out for.

  • Nervousness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor sleep
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Stomach disorders

Each person has his own ways of dealing with stress, and not everyone will have the same symptoms. If you think you might need help, you should see your doctor.