Is Psychological Stress a Significant Contributor To Many Diseases?

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What is psychological stress?

Psychological stress results when a person feels that their adaptive ability is being taxed or exceeded by environmental demands. Studies on psychological stress pragmatically concentrate either on the occurrence of environmental events that are generally regarded as taxing one’s capacity to cope or on personal responses to events that are indicative of this overload, such as perceived stress and event-elicited negative affect.

The relationship between Psychological Stress and diseases

Stressful situations are typically believed to affect the development of physical disease by creating depressive affective states (such as anxiety and depression symptoms), which in turn have an immediate impact on bodily functions or behavior patterns that affect illness risk.

Chronic stress exposures are regarded as the most harmful because they are more likely to create long-lasting or permanent alterations in the physiological, behavioral, and emotional responses that affect disease susceptibility and progression. This encompasses stressful situations that last for a long time (such as taking care of a spouse who has dementia) or quick, intense situations that are felt to be overpowering long after they have passed (e.g experiencing a sexual assault)

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A significant method by which stressors affect disease risk is through behavioral adjustments or coping mechanisms, such as increased smoking, decreased exercise and sleep, and poorer adherence to medication regimens. Another crucial mechanism is the endocrine response to stressors.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA) and the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) system Pathways to stress

A wide range of physiological processes, including anti-inflammatory responses, the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins, and gluconeogenesis, are regulated by cortisol, the main effector of HPA activation in humans. The autonomic nerve system collaborates with catecholamines, which are generated in response to SAM activation, to exert regulatory effects on the immunological, skeletal muscle, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and hepatic systems. The HPA and SAM systems’ ability to manage other physiological systems may be compromised by prolonged or repetitive activation, which raises the risk of both physical and mental illnesses.

Stress can lead to various diseases !

Stress’s effects on the control of immunological and inflammatory responses may have an impact on depression, autoimmune, infectious, and coronary artery disease, as well as at least certain cancers (such as those caused by viruses, for example).  Through the direct innervation of lymphatic tissue, the release of the hormones HPA and SAM, which bind to and influence the actions of immunologically active cells, or through stress-related behavioral changes like increased smoking, psychological stress may affect immune function.

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Even though stressors are frequently linked to sickness, the majority of people who experience traumatic experiences and persistent serious issues don’t get sick.  Identification of individual differences in susceptibility to potential pathogenic effects of stress has attracted a lot of attention, with a focus on both genetic and psychological factors.

Disease correlation with stress

Below is a list of links between stress and illness.

Stress and Depression

Both major depressive disorder and depressive symptoms have been connected to stressful life situations. Increased stress also predicts the clinical course of major depression, which includes characteristics like longer duration, symptom worsening, and relapse. Although the majority of studies have focused on life events as depression triggers, stress also predicts the onset of major depression.  Additionally, evidence suggests that circumstances that arise during treatment lessen the effectiveness of the response.

Stress and cardiovascular disease (CVD)

Prolonged SAM activation mediates the effects of stress. Stress has been shown to promote pathogenic processes such as myocardial ischemia and activate inflammatory and coagulatory systems in laboratory investigations on healthy adults and cardiac patients.

Prospective studies on populations of initially healthy people offer strong evidence that there is a connection between psychological stress and CVD morbidity and mortality. According to one meta-analysis, high levels of work stress—defined as little workplace control combined with a lot of expectations, inadequate pay, or organizational injustice—raise CVD risk by about 50%.

Initially, healthy people who endure traumatic experiences, such as the death of a child, or who are exposed to emotional, sexual, or physical abuse during their formative years are also at an elevated risk of developing long-term cardiovascular diseases.


According to some data, a buildup of unfavorable life events over several years of follow-up can predict poorer AIDS-related outcomes. For instance, each extra moderately severe incident increased the likelihood of acquiring AIDS by 50% and an AIDS-related clinical condition by 2.5 times in HIV-positive men.  Stress has also been proven to affect the development of viral infections, to which people with HIV are particularly vulnerable.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

The intestines move more and are more sensitive while under stress. External stressors can cause unpleasant bowel symptoms because our central nervous system’s pain pathways are connected to those of our digestive systems. There is evidence that stress and mood problems can change our immune system and gut flora, both of which are critical for healthy gut function.


Stress has been linked in experimental studies on animals to the onset, development, and spread of specific malignancies. Additionally, mechanistic human investigations show that stress has an impact on important cancer pathogenic mechanisms such as antiviral defenses, DNA repair, and cellular aging. Despite these encouraging results, there is, at best, conflicting evidence from prospective studies associating stress with the occurrence of cancer in people.


Short-term stressors might also cause symptoms of sleeplessness. Normally, these symptoms would go away once the stressful scenario was over. However, some people may have a vicious cycle of nighttime anxiety and daytime sleepiness that progresses to chronic insomnia.

Weight gain

When under stress, people often turn to “excessive eating,” indulging in meals that are high in fat and sugar to feel better. The tendency to overeat under pressure raises the possibility that someone may become obese.


Psychological stress and disease have been linked, especially in the cases of depression, cardiovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS. Upper respiratory tract infections, asthma, herpes viral infections, autoimmune illnesses, and wound healing are additional conditions were evidence of the impact of stress is beginning to emerge.

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