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Here’s a news flash: stress can make you sick.
What’s newsworthy about it is that maybe you haven’t gotten the message that stress can have a permanent effect on chronic illness. Clouds your thinking, screws up your judgment. Gives you the weepies and angries. Can take away your will to vacuum the house or cook a meal. The effects of stress on the mood and memory components of your brain get screwed up, even shut down.
It’s not just mood; it’s memory, too.
Stress looks like lots of things: a fight with your partner; anger or hurt at work; having to euthanize your pet (even making the decision); the temperature of your environment; hunger; lack of sleep, and more.
And our stress reactions aren’t just emotional, they’re physical, too. For example, my ability, literally, to stand or walk is impacted by the amount I exert myself in a hot environment. Actually, I don’t even have to exert myself when I’m hot: the very act of being is enough!
Worst of all are the cognitive impairments suffered from too much stress. “Chemo brain” is a good example. While chemotherapy has a decompensating effect on the brain, symptoms can begin as quickly as when a cancer diagnosis is received. Adele Davidson talks about the relation of stress to chemo brain in her book, Your Brain On Chemo. I think many our of disabilities’ stress responses mimic chemo brain, certainly my multiple sclerosis does.
I’ve beem talking about “distress”, or “bad stress”; however, we can’t go without “eustress”, or “good stress”. Unless we stress our minds and bodies in appropriate ways (which differ for each of us) by doing things like walking around the block, carrying the wash down the stairs then folding and it putting way, reading, playing cards, debating an issue, problem solving, etc. we become mentally and physically flabby. Ever see someone in a waiting room doing a crossword puzzle? Same reason lots of adults work on jigsaw puzzles.
There’s a double benefit: not only is the mental exercise good for the brain, the pleasure and relaxation have a measurable chemical benefit as well.