What many of us haven’t realized, however, is that work-related stress can also cost us our cell tissue. Left unmanaged, overwork and its resultant stresses can dramatically affect our biochemistry, putting our bodies — and our lives — at very real risk.
A variety of recent studies are confirming what many holistic health professionals have been saying for centuries: There’s a fundamental and very immediate connection between our life experience and our bodily state. Our blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, brainwaves, neurotransmitters, hormones and immune function all respond to mental and emotional inputs. The biochemical profiles associated with various types of stress culminate in a general lowering of physical resilience, right down to the cellular level.
While we may still lack peer-reviewed studies detailed enough to tie specific emotional experiences to specific types of cancer, there can be little doubt that automatic biochemical responses to chronic experiences of frustration, worry and helplessness put pressure on our bodies’ essential systems, aging us and reducing our general immunity. The connections between mental-emotional stress and a vulnerability to heart disease, in particular, are well founded.
A large-scale prospective study produced by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College London recently revealed that work-related stress is an important risk factor in metabolic syndrome — a interrelated pattern of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and poor blood-lipid and blood-sugar profiles that dramatically increases individuals’ risks for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among other health threats. Specifically, the study found that people who experience high levels of chronic job stress over a period of several years have double the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Find details in “Work Stress May Hurt the Heart,” in the News section at www.webmd.com.
Celebrated author and medical intuitive Caroline Myss, PhD, has often said that “our biography becomes our biology.” What this means, in effect, is that we are what we live. Our bodies are constantly reacting to their mental and emotional environments, and they eventually come to reflect the sum of their experiences, for better or for worse.
Sleep disorders, depression, digestive distress, high cholesterol, anxiety attacks — they all have stress-related components, and they may all tell different parts of the same stress-related story. In a culture prone to “diseasifying” and medicating even the most evident of lifestyle imbalances and personal miseries, this concept is worth reflecting on, I think. And not just from the “for worse” perspective. Because (workaholics take note) the “for better” aspects of our lives have some important biological consequences, too.
Laughter, for example, has been proven to release a variety of immune-enhancing chemicals. And oxytocin, a peptide released during times of emotional bonding, relaxation and comforting touch, has a variety of protective, anti-stress functions. It reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels, increases tolerance to pain and reduces anxiety.
Moreover, oxytocin is thought to encourage “tend and befriend” behaviors, as opposed to “fight or flight” behaviors, in times of stress. Which means having an adequate supply of oxytocin in your system makes it less likely you’re going to react to stress by heaping it on someone else. Such as your coworker. Or your spouse.
Oxytocin, evidently, is one of those chemicals we’re far more likely to produce during our time off — which is to say, on evenings and weekends. And ironically, the more we work, the more of this sort of “biochemical ointment” we’re likely to need. So if you have been drawing down your emotional and physical reserves in the course of a massive career push, it might be time to give your cell tissue some consideration. In this issue of Experience Life, you’ll find a variety of informative articles designed to empower you to take better care of yourself — in the interest of your cellular health, your mental health and your career success.