The Relationship Between Stress & Chronic Disease Flares
Recent studies provide significant insight into how stress hormones can suppress or otherwise alter the immune system, which can have significant repercussions if you are a chronic disease patient.
When you are stressed, your body goes into what is commonly known as fight-or-flight mode. This reaction triggers the release of chemicals, including cytokines, that are known to turn your immune system on and can lead to inflammation. Research suggests that people with chronic autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and IBD are more sensitive to this process.
While there is no conclusive evidence that stress is the primary cause of these diseases, if you are a patient, you’ve probably experienced worsening symptoms or increased disease flareups during highly stressful times.
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What Recent Findings Say
A research team from Carnegie Mellon University discovered a link between chronic psychological stress and the body’s ability to regulate inflammatory responses.
Furthermore, the study shows that long-term psychological stress can promote the development and progression of chronic illnesses.
Stress is not all bad; in fact, it is an evolutionary response to protect the body from disease and attack. However, when it becomes chronic, it loses its beneficial traits and instead exposes your body to elevated levels of stress hormones, including cortisol.
Paradoxically, cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone, but when it spirals out of control, it’s likely to have the opposite effect and result in widespread inflammation.
To make matters worse, the resulting inflammation can weaken the blood-brain barrier and intestinal lining, allowing harmful toxins and foreign bodies to breach these protective membranes causing an even greater inflammatory response and triggering an autoimmune response attacking healthy tissue.
Ways for You To Lessen Stress
Stress is part of our lives and there is no way to prevent it entirely. However, it’s vital that you learn how to manage it to slow the progression of your disease, reduce the frequency and severity of flareups, and increase your quality of life.
Speak to Your Doctor
Ask your doctor for help if you have trouble adjusting to your new lifestyle after being diagnosed with a chronic disease or if you feel overwhelmed by your disease management plan.
Having questions and experiencing sadness, anger, anxiety, and depression while living with a chronic disease is expected, but you can significantly improve the outcome by learning how to deal with these feelings.
Your doctor can recommend support groups or refer you to a counselor or psychologist specializing in helping patients with your condition.
Staying active is an excellent way to keep stress at bay. Ask your doctor about which exercises are best for your condition. They may suggest you try low impact activities such as:
- Tai Chi
Keep Calm and Stay Positive
Living with a chronic disease means you will have great and not-so-great days. However, as challenging as it may seem, it’s essential to not dwell on the negative and instead focus on the good things in your life.
Practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, and meditation can help calm your body’s responses and provide a clearer and more positive outlook on any situation.
Make Time for Leisure
Set a little time every day to do something you enjoy. It can be watching TV, reading a good book, listening to music, spending time with your friends, or cuddling with your pets.