Stress hurts, and it can also make it more difficult for your body to heal. Research performed at Ohio State University found that stress – both temporary and chronic – can actually lengthen the time it takes for wounds to heal.
The studies, presented by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and virologist and immunologist Ronald Glaser at the 2008 American Psychological Association conference, focused on caregivers who looked after chronically ill family members – a highly stressful role for most – as well as dental students before a big exam.
In one experiment, Kiecolt-Glaser and her research team made small incisions on the arms of a group of caregivers, as well as a non-caregiver control group, with a dermatological biopsy tool. They then monitored the wound healing times, and found that the wounds of the caregivers took 24 percent longer to heal.
In a subsequent experiment, the team made tiny lesions in the mouths of 11 dental students at two different points in their schedules – once during summer vacation, and once in the fall, a few days before a challenging exam. Researchers found that the wounds inflicted before the exam took 2 to 8 days longer to heal than the summer wounds. In some of the students, the fall wounds took almost twice as long to heal.
So, the question is, what is it about stress that extends healing time, leaving wounds open longer, therefore more susceptible to infection? Kiecolt-Glaser explains that stress creates its own response in the immune system, including chronic inflammation if the stress is ongoing.
Chronic inflammation disrupts the body’s ability to heal wounds and fight infections, and also increases the risk of osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The research team also found that stress can worsen allergies.
Fortunately, there are many methods available to us to naturally manage our stress. Meditation is an ancient practice that has stress relief as one of its many benefits. Apply an essential oil, such as lavender, to pressure points before you meditate, to help you relax even further.
Simply breathing deeply can immediately lower your stress levels. If you find yourself becoming panicked, take a moment to consciously think about your breath. Is it shallow and halted? Take a few slow, deep breaths in and out. Better?
Walking around in nature, especially in a forest environment, has been shown to lower the cortisol levels associated with stress, and provide a sense of calm. Even if you are busy at work, if things are getting to be too much, take a 5 minute walk outside. Keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings is also very therapeutic to some.
Whatever method you choose, keeping your stress under control is important to not only your mental health, but your physical health, as well.
-The Alternative Daily