Did you know that when the body is under stress, it produces a hormone called cortisol? The hormone provides energy that might be needed in a stressful situation.It also lowers the body's immune response to infections like influenza; inflammation and inflammation-related responses like coughing, sneezing and fevers. So, while it lowers the immune response, there's a bit of an upside because it also depresses the things we don't like about the flu, for example; the coughing, the sneezing and the fever.
But when cortisol levels stay elevated - say, under periods of prolonged stress - the body may become less sensitive to it. When researchers at Carnegie Mellon tested this idea* by exposing healthy adults to cold viruses, they found that people who'd recently been through stressful experiences were most likely to show resistance to cortisol. They were also more likely to develop colds - and they produced cytokines, immune system components that promote inflammation and heighten the severity of symptoms.
Have brief periods of stress, and a correspondingly brief jump in your cortisol levels could allow you to operate more efficiently and even depress the symptoms of infections you get because of your correspondingly lowered immune system.
Have extended periods of stress, and all that cortisol in your system will do less and less good; in fact, your body will produce another chemical that will increase and heighten the severity of all the symptoms that cortisol fought.
I just learned that. And now I'm that much closer to understanding why, when my stress level goes from Defcon Three to Defcon Two (we're never at less than Defcon Three here at Casa Kaffyr,) my body's sclerodermically wonky immune system responds by inflaming my wrists, my toes, my ankles, my fingers, the tops of my feet and the backs of my hands, making them so hot and sore that it hurts to wash my hands or put socks on.
We had our first negotiation session today. Guess how my joints have reacted?
But right now I'm kind of gleeful, all that notwithstanding. Not about the pain, but about what I learned.
I mean, yeah, the common wisdom (an oxymoronic phrase if ever there was one) has been that stress can lead to ailments. And, yeah, there are have been numerous studies linking stress to illness (which, I suppose, means that in this case the common wisdom isn't quite so oxymoronic as it might otherwise be aaaaaand I'm rambling). But reading about this study really helps me understand my own body, and gives me a more concrete idea of why - and, more importantly for me, how - my own stress-illness connection works.
And yes, somehow that's more worth talking about than the day of negotiations.
Oh, and I'm really, really close to finishing Chapter 17. I know I said that earlier, but I'm even closer now. Really. Maybe by the end of the weekend. I feel positively breathless.
*Findings of the study were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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