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Stress Emotion Disease


If there is one aspect of diseases that a layman could speak confidently of, it is the fact that emotions can affect human health. At the simplest level, there are many people who get a headache when they are angry or upset. Some take medication for it, but an equal or more number sleep it off. Once whatever the emotional factor that caused the upset vanishes, the headache too goes its way.

Sleeping off a headache is quite common. By sleeping, one achieves at least a limited emotional control, so far as what sparked the upset was a sudden anger or something similar. But I once witnessed an astounding instance where an instant emotional remedy in the form of sudden excitement worked.

A neighbor of mine, when I went to get a book from her, was down with a headache. She was always prone to it and the reason for it that day was that she was out in the sun too long. She was lying with her eyes closed. I took the book, told her son and left. Just five minutes after that there was a sudden commotion in the neighborhood. Someone was spotted jumping over the wall of the house next to hers and running away. All the people in the houses of the three parallel streets in the area congregated there. There was shouting, chasing, screaming and a lot of analyzing the cause and the motive of the trespass. I saw her also active in the crowd, giving a lot of suggestions. In about 15 minutes the hubbub subsided and then suddenly I noticed her standing aloof, looking around a little confused and rubbing her eyes.

What happened?’ I asked her.

I . I .don’t understand this,’ she said. My headache has vanished. It has never gone away like this. I can’t believe this.’

I am sure many people have similar incidents to narrate. I have once seen a person, lying on bed due to a back problem, suddenly jumping up to read an email he was eagerly awaiting. The excitement had the power to at least temporarily cure the sprain or twist or whatever it was.

Everyone will acknowledge the intricate connection of emotions to headaches but lesser people know or rather acknowledge the connection of emotion to ulcers. Even though H Pylori is now unanimously acknowledged as the villain causing peptic ulcers in people, it is difficult to rule out that the disease is not psychosomatic. I personally know more than one instance of people who had to undergo a lot of stress in life and had to suffer peptic ulcer side by side. That there is increased gastric acid output in people who are distressed or angry is a known factor and this definitely increases their susceptibility to ulcers.

Clinical studies have shown that emotional distress hinders the healing of ulcers. Likewise, a “psychologically stable person who develops an ulcer during a stressful period is likely to remain free of symptoms for years after a short course of treatment, even without medication to eradicate H pylori.” (Source: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/316/7130/538#Stress_and_ulcers:_the_evidence)

Diabetes is a well-known disease. Most people know about its reasons, ramifications and its hereditary nature. There was this doctor I knew, in his late fifties, who had no diabetic problems. Being a doctor, he submitted himself to periodic tests and could find no traces of the disease. Then one day he suddenly got a message that his son has met with a serious accident. He rushed to the young man, traveling all night and half a day to reach the place, and stayed by his side. He helped and nursed the youngster but the by the third day the doctor found that his own blood sugar had shot up to an unbelievably high level! The son became all right in due course and resumed his duties, but the doctor’s diabetes remained with him for the rest of his life though he bought it under control with medication.

There are also instances of women getting diabetes pretty early in life due to suppressed emotions. In male-dominated societies, many women become forced to restrict their activities to within the four walls of their homes. Inability to cultivate their talents, give voice to their opinions or bring up children the way they like, make many women frustrated. Many also have to put up with the temper tantrums of men. There are cases where women in such circumstances developed diabetes quite early in life. It was also found in such cases that the woman’s family had a history of diabetes. Their emotional stress perhaps triggered off its development quite early in life.

That mental upset and blood pressure is directly related is something experienced by many.
An acquaintance of mine, seeking treatment for a skin problem, was told by the doctor that his problem is directly related to some emotional affliction. The man protested that he is emotionally well-balanced. The doctor said that there need not necessarily be any conspicuous mental imbalance to cause a skin problem. According to him, small frustrations, accumulating over the years, were enough to result in the condition. The man did carry some career frustrations underneath his calm demeanor and this could have probably created a situation conducive to developing the condition.

Researches have indeed found that “stress can reduce the skin permeability barrier and skin conditions can become worse.” (Source: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s304204.htm)

The inability to speak openly of one’s problems can cause lasting health problems and negative personality development. Domineering parents, peer disapproval, inferiority complexes resulting from inability to perform well in class or athletics, all result in suppressed emotions, which continue to grow with the child, and can have negative long-term effects.
Sleeplessness is a common manifestation of inner turmoil when a person is disturbed due to financial, official or other family, society or success related problems. That this insomnia, in its turn, leads to a variety of ailments is also clearly seen. This state of affairs works in a circular pattern by its negative effects causing more sleeplessness and thus worsening the health situation.

Since medical science and individual experiences have provided enough evidence that stress is a contributing factor to many ailments, it is everybody’s main duty to reduce it in the lives of those with whom they come into contact.

About controlling one’s own stress, we can try to convince ourselves that happiness is, after all, relative. From a more practical angle, deep breathing can often help to control anger as well as sadness. Trying to focus on the positive side of things and developing a forgiving attitude rather than being vengeful might also help. As a beginning, a person can start counting his fingers when he gets very angry. And if his anger does not cool down by the time he counts ten with his finger, then he can count his toes, then perhaps stars, if required..