Long-term, chronic stress is just plain bad for your health, but a new study probes into the question of why. Researchers in the US found that stress reduces the body's ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn bumps your chances of getting sick.
"The immune system's ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease," study researcher Sheldon Cohen, of Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement released this week. "When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease."
In the study, 276 healthy adults completed "intensive" stress interviews before being exposed to the common cold virus, then were quarantined for the next five days. The researchers kept note of their symptoms, finding that if a person was undergoing long-term stress, he or she was more likely not to be able to regulate inflammation, and hence had a greater risk of getting a cold. The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Occasional stress is a fact of life, but suffering chronic stress can wreak havoc on your health. Prevention magazine suggests stress can manifest in unexpected ways, from nightmares to teeth gnashing. Other signs that you're stressed include weekend headaches, terrible period cramps, a sore jaw, odd dreams, and sudden acne.
Medical resource WebMD recommends learning better ways to manage your time and finding ways to cope with stress, such as relying on a support system of friends or family. Taking good care of yourself is also vital -- be sure to get plenty of rest and regular exercise. Also eat well, don't smoke, and limit your alcohol consumption.