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To what extent does research (theories and/or studies) show a relationship between stress and physical illness?

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Introduction

To what extent does research (theories and/or studies) show a relationship between stress and physical illness? (18) Stress is an example of a behaviour and experience explained in physiological and psychological terms. Recently awareness has been heightened concerning the harmful effects of stress and how it can be successfully managed and prevented. Lay definitions of stress seem to focus on a 'force' or some kind of mental pressure which is exerted upon an individual which is aversive. Stress is often associated with anxiety, strain, tension, distress and fatigue. The effects of stress include biochemical physiological and psychological changes, many of which are associated with ill health effects (Gatchel 1989). Thus medical and psychological research findings in this area are crucial in aiding our understanding of the issue, in order to minimise these effects on health. Stress is usually defined as an interaction between an individual and their environment and the way they interpret what is going on around them and how they are going to cope with it. This allows for individual differences in the way we perceive stressors e.g. divorce, and the way we feel we are able to cope with things. If we cannot cope with the situation we are faced with, then we experience psychological and physiological responses to the stressor. ...read more.

Middle

There is increasing evidence that stress can cause illness by impairing the workings of the immune system. The immune system protects the body from harmful viruses and bacteria cells known as lymphocytes recognise and destroy harmful viruses and bacteria. When the stress response is activated, the activity of the immune system is slowed/scaled down. One of the earliest studies into the effects of stress on the immune system was conducted by Riley 1981 using mice. He placed the mice on a rotating turntable thus creating stress. Riley measured the mice's lymphocyte count over a five-hour period and found a marked decrease, indicating suppression of the immune system. He also looked at the link between stress and tumour growth by implanting cells in mice, one group had ten minutes of rotation per hour for three days - high stress group, another had no stress. Riley found that the mice with no stress developed no tumours whereas the high stress group of mice developed large tumours. This study raised an ethical issue about the use of animals in lab tests/experiments. Also we should be cautious about generalising the findings from animal studies to humans, our pressures (concerned with relationships, money, work etc) ...read more.

Conclusion

They found that American men were more susceptible to heart disease than American women, even though their diets were very similar. They thought that job-related stress might be a contributing factor as most men worked, most women didn't. In a later study they found that accountants who were approaching a tax return deadline had a dangerously high level of serum cholesterol and a high blood clotting speed, which then returned to normal after the deadline. Friedman and Rosenman 1974 looked at 3000 men between the ages of 39-59 years. They were dived into two group type A - ambitious, competitive, easily angered and perfectionists. Type B - relaxed, easy-going, not driven to achieve perfection and not easily angered. They found within nine years of commencing the study 70% of the 257 who died were type A individuals (they took smoking and drinking into consideration). Therefore personality type and stress are closely related and together are related to the risk of CHD There is however, an unclear relationship between CHD and Type A personalities because they are more likely to have other known risk factors. Stress itself cannot cause CHD or any other illness. It is somehow linked to cardiovascular disorders and appears to play a role in hypertension - when a person experiences several weeks of high blood pressure and it's a major risk factor of CHD. Catrin Killa 2E AS Psychology - Rachel Evans 07/05/2007 ...read more.

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