One of the pioneers of stress research, Dr. Hans Selye wrote that " ... stress is essentially reflected by the rate of all the wear and tear caused by life."
His research convinced him that the body has only a finite reserve of adaptation energy to apply to the stressors of life. Selye likened this reserve to a bank account upon which we can make withdrawals from time to time but into which we cannot make deposits. It is a non-renewable reserve of energy which we draw on throughout life until eventually it is consumed and death results. Some people squander their reserves and experience premature ageing as a result; others exercise more discretion and so they maintain a supply over a longer period of time.
Over a long period of time the stress response begins to take a toll on the body. One of the prime targets affected is the thymus gland (a mysterious pale grey gland that sits behind the breastbone, above the heart) which plays a key role in the body's immune system. The thymus gland pumps out millions of lymphocytes each day to patrol throughout the body and to kill off bacterial invaders. Killer cells called macrophages literally eat invading bacteria. They operate in all parts of the body and we depend on them for our survival. Macrophages are weakened by a steroid called cortisol which is released by the adrenal gland when we experience stress. A weakened immune system makes us vulnerable to infection and this is why people under stress often experience regular attacks of colds and flu.
Psychological stress does have physical ramifications. We can do ourselves a great deal of harm by stressful thinking. We can flood our body with stress hormones and this can create a vicious cycle making us more and more stressful.
About the author:
John Townsend is a professional consultant working in the fields of Stress Management, Executive Management Training, Sales Training and Customer Service. His clients include some of Australia's largest companies and many State and Commonwealth Government Departments. He regularly works with Company Executives through an Australia-wide organisation called The Executive Connection. His programs are used by the Institute of Administration at the University of NSW. He regularly presents Seminars in the UK and USA. His "Get Tough With Stress" program is used by banks in England, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.