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Can stress make us sick?

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We know that a lot of stress can impact our thoughts and mood.

But can too much stress actually make us more likely to develop autoimmune disorders?

A recent study suggests that it can.

The study looked at data from a registry of 106,464 people.

Researchers found that those who were diagnosed with stress-related disorders were more likely to experience problems with their immune systems and the development of autoimmune disorders.

Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said experts have known for a while that what happens in our minds impacts our bodies from head to toe.

“Our minds and our bodies are connected,” he said. “Our emotions and what happens in our body are connected – we’ve known that for a long time and this is another study that shows the evidence of that.” 

Dr. Bea said we have a response to stress that initially causes alarm, then discomfort, followed by exhaustion.

He said if we can develop good active coping responses early on, it can help provide a buffer from some of that stress reactivity.

According to Dr. Bea, moving our bodies, socializing and setting activity schedules are all things that can help us cope with our stress and how our body reacts to it.

He said taking care of our emotional well-being, much like the way we concern ourselves with our physical well-being, can go a long way towards improved overall health.

“We’re a culture that looks at physical exercise very seriously - we want people to move their bodies, go to the gym, engage in cardiovascular exercise, resistance training – we don’t think about emotional exercises as much.” Said Dr. Bea. “We really should be keeping our emotions and our coping mechanisms tuned up.” 

Dr. Bea recommends learning skills to keep our minds in the present. He said mindfulness is something even children can learn at a young age.

“I really encourage people to adopt a different relationship with their thoughts by learning a practice of mindfulness and noticing thoughts as just thoughts – as something that occurs, but passes by you, rather than getting stuck on thoughts,” he said. “This is a really great mechanism to reduce stress reactivity.”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.

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