Caught a cold again? Your first reaction may be to blame the kids, but you may need to look a little closer to home to determine the cause of your sneezing and coughing.
Are you anxious about your health, worried about your spouse, frustrated with your financial situation? These stressors could be your cold-causing culprits. And if you let them get to you, even daily upsets—long lines at the store, a less-than-helpful bank teller, a wet newspaper—may increase your risk of catching the germ of the week.
How can stress make you sick? It increases your blood pressure, makes your heart beat faster and makes your blood more likely to clot. If these conditions are sustained for a long period of time, some experts think they could raise your risk of heart disease.
In addition, stress weakens your immune system, although scientists don’t agree on exactly how. Some studies have found that a hormone released during stressful situations, cortisol, suppresses other hormones needed to fight infection.
During one study, research teams at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the University of Virginia Health Science Center gave 276 healthy volunteers an exam that determined stress levels. Afterward they deposited cold viruses in volunteers’ nasal passages and isolated them. The result: Those who were more stressed were more likely to get sick.
The scientists also determined that being severely stressed for more than a month doubles a person’s risk of catching a cold, and relationship or interpersonal problems double the risk of a cold.
Of even greater concern, one study of 50-year-old men found that those under extreme stress were three times more likely to die over the next seven years than those whose lives were relatively stress-free.
Stress has also been shown to intensify symptoms. After studying 55 subjects who had been injected with a flu virus, researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that those who reported more tension before receiving the shot had more debilitating flu symptoms than others.
So how can you keep stress from making you sick? First, try to stop an anxious situation from reeling out of control by taking a deep breath and analyzing the situation.
- Is it really the crisis I think it is?
- Do I have all the facts?
- Is the situation within my control?
- If it is within my control, do I have a sensible plan to deal with it?
Last but not least, if the situation is not within your control, detach and walk away to prevent further escalation. That way, you can cool off and return later to mend fences.