To what extent does research support a link between stress and illness?
When you are stressed, your stress response system is activated and in order for your stress response system to work effectively, your body must shut down other systems, e.g. the digestive system and the immune system. Seeing as your immune system shuts down, this will make you more prone to illness.
The stress response is experienced when you feel like you’re encountering a threat and don’t know how to deal with it. The stressor is the ‘threat’ that causes stress, e.g. exams, death of a loved one, losing your job, divorce. If you do suffer with stress, you’ll have an increase in heart rate, increase in breathing and also you don’t feel hungry. The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream; there are B cells and T cells. If your stress is short term, it wont affect your immune system at all, however if it long term/chronic, it can leave your body being vulnerable to infection and disease. Stress responses increase strain upon the circulatory system due to an increased heart rate, which could lead to the person having difficulties with their heart and circulation. This could lead to the person having coronary heart disease. People with the personality type A are more likely to suffer with CHD.
A study to support this is Kiecolt-Glaser et al in 1984. The aim of his was to investigate whether stress of important examinations has an effect on the functioning of the immune system. They had 75 volunteers and the procedure was that they would take a blood sample a month before their final exam and during their exam. With the blood sample, they would see how many T cells were active in the blood sample. They found out that the blood sample taken before the exam had more T cells compared to during the exam. The conclusion is that stress of the exam reduced the effectiveness of the immune system.