CAN we overcome stress? If we can, should we?
Today psychophysiologists are beginning to formulate models showing that stress, anxiety, and depression influence the body to create or aggravate mental and physical disorders. Greater stress and anxiety tend to degenerate the physical body and depress one’s mental outlook on the world. Are there ways to reverse this process of physical degeneration while maximizing the condition under which positive attitudes, beliefs, and life-style changes can heal the afflicted body and mind?
The basic assumption at the root of current research is that there is both a psychological and a physical component to all disease. Another common assumption is that individual is able to exercise a marked degree of will power in the development, aggravation, and alleviation of these disorders. From these assumptions one might conclude that a personal psychology or philosophy may have a pronounced effect upon whether a person maintains a positive attitude regardless of the state of health.
According to Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, estimates concerning the role of psychological factors in both physical and psychosomatic disorders range from a conservative 50-70% to full 100%. A basic assumption in the latter estimate is that all psychological, psychosomatic, and physical disorders are either caused or aggravated by our individual reaction to stress. According to this view, illness is often comprised of an interaction of psychological and physical factors.
When we experience stress, the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system [ANC] is activated. This activation can be followed instruments which measure the galvanic skin response [GSR]. GSR is measured by introducing a weak current on the surface of the skin and determining the skin’s resistance to the flow of the electric current. With sympathetic arousal skin resistance increases, while with parasympathetic relaxation skin resistance decreases. Following application of a stress, the average individual shows a brief arousal followed by a relaxation.
A person experiencing the anxiety of hypertension tends to respond more slowly to stress, and tends to stay aroused for longer periods afterwards. In fact, as new stresses are applied there is a tendency to become more and more aroused, as if ascending an escalator. In time the anxious person is no longer able to respond, having reached and maintained maximum levels of sympathetic arousal. In this chronic state, the body’s capacity to remove the high concentrations of excitatory hormones and the waste products of overactive cells is impaired and the body begins to deteriorate.