Alarm legacy from the Stone Age: How and why stress makes us sick

              Saturday, December 14, 2019

              The WHO counts occupational stress as a cause of illness to "one of the greatest dangers of the 21st century". But why does stress make you sick at all? A mechanism from the Stone Age is to blame, which puts us on the alert for hours.
              Stressful illnesses have many faces: dizziness or cardiac arrhythmias, an irritated stomach or high blood pressure, menstrual problems, ringing in the ears, even impotence or recurrent colds – and exhaustion, of course. It's no wonder that the World Health Organization (WHO) has even identified occupational stress as one of the "greatest dangers of the 21st century". Because society is getting more and more stressed: And the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists (BPtK) used health insurance data to determine that the psychological loss of work almost doubled between 2000 and 2012. "The increasing stress in the world of work, digitization, fast pace and social change lead to numerous illnesses associated with stress, "says Christoph Haurand, chief physician of the Clinic for Internal Medicine and Cardiology of the Bergmannsheil and Children's Clinic Buer in Gelsenkirchen. Anyone who experiences anger in private life in addition to social stress in professional life is particularly at risk. Permanent alarm from the Stone Age But why does stress make you sick? It starts with the so-called stress nerve sympathetic nervous system and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. They increase muscle tension, accelerate the pulse and increase blood pressure. "Adrenaline enables the organism to mobilize energy extremely quickly and cortisol can maintain the increased activity over a long period of time," explains Haurand. Stone Age rock painting: Stone Age people only saw fight or flight when they saw predators, supported by stress hormones. But today, for many people, this mechanism is more dangerous than any big cat. (Photo: imago images / imagebroker) In the Stone Age, this body reaction made sense – in preparation for fighting or fleeing. After physical activity, rest and recovery phases followed in the home cave. But today, the body's own mechanisms put the organism on alert for hours, making the permanent alarm a cornerstone of stroke and heart attack. Cortisol also promotes water retention in the body and causes obesity. The obesity (obesity) in some top managers is therefore not solely due to many rich business meals and alcohol consumption – but also to permanent stress. Cortisol also suppresses the immune system, which is why stress manifests itself in the form of cold sores or blemished skin. Nice moments as a balance But is there also positive stress? The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are also released on birthdays, weddings or professional and private successes, explains Matthias Less, medical psychotherapist and board member of the Institute for Stress Medicine Rhein-Ruhr. However, the stress response here is short-lived. "After that, serotonin and endorphins are released, which lead to feelings of happiness, emotional balance, rational thinking and good decisions." That is why it is important to regularly create beautiful moments in everyday life. A meeting with friends, sporting activities, theater, cinema or concert visits, painting courses, dance circles, choral singing – there are no limits to your imagination. The anti-stress and binding hormone oxytozin is also released while cuddling and crawling. "Partners offer emotional support, which benefits health. In fact, the life expectancy of married people exceeds that of the unbound contemporaries by several years," says Prof. Thomas Klein, who in Heidelberg researches at the Max Weber Institute for Sociology. "In addition, social control by the partner protects against harmful behavior and promotes a healthy lifestyle." Meditating alone is not enough With or without a partner – relaxation procedures such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga or mindfulness training are available to help shape everyday life. However, regular relaxation exercises are not enough to meditate away typical professional stress factors – for example, personnel responsibility or liability for large sums of money.Matthias Less therefore advises to step out of the hamster wheel and carry out a spontaneous satisfaction check with a self-questioning: "Am I happy with my relationship status? Am I happy with my working world? What do I really want? "

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