Mind Over Sports

Stress And Your Immune System

Posted on: March 12, 2007

Mary Louise, a competent registered nurse working at a major metropolitan hospital, had recently gone through a trying divorce and was the sole means of support for herself and her two-year-old son. She felt as if she were constantly living on the edge.

At work Mary Louise had a nursing supervisor who was making her life miserable. She wanted to speak out, but decided against it. She thought about leaving her job, but had convinced herself that she would never be able to find another, despite a demand for nurses with her credentials. She felt she was holding on by her fingernails.

Mary Louise was a perfect candidate for life-threatening illness. She was withholding her feelings, getting little sleep, experiencing massive stress, and surviving by eating greasy hamburgers and chicken from fast-food restaurants.

She had low self-esteem, and before long she did, in fact, become ill with cancer. Instinctively, she quit her job; and with help from her doctor, was soon on a regimen of vegetables, fruits, grains and a variety of nutritional supplements, including large doses of beta-carotene and fresh carrot juice to strengthen her immune system.

People with low self-esteem, who do not confront issues in their lives, create their own stress. They also create for themselves psychological baggage affecting their ability to focus. The stress results in illness, the non-focusing results in accidents; and both are major reasons why health care costs in the United States increase dramatically every year.

It’s safe to project that 20% of our society is responsible for 80% of all health care expenses incurred, and most of this 20% is made up of people with low or negative self-images.
As mentioned before, people with low self-esteem (who have created their own psychological baggage) are prone to accidents, especially automobile accidents. They often either drive absent-mindedly and constantly run red lights, colliding with other vehicles, or they have so much anger — which they are afraid to release at the responsible party — they find themselves driving madly and recklessly through traffic. An article in a national news publication told of a new computerized test capable of predicting with considerable accuracy whether it’s safe for an older person to continue driving their car:

The test detects how rapidly and correctly the brain can process new visual information . . . about 20% of people over 65 have such severe attention impairment that they’re at high risk for car accidents.

This test, if proven effective, should not be limited to older persons. Unfortunately, it would still be difficult to ferret out those individuals with low self-esteem, whose ability to focus is affected by their emotional baggage and who drive angrily through traffic. These are also people who abuse alcohol and drugs, two major causes of automobile accidents. Certainly these persons are more susceptible to cancer and heart disease.

So, in a perfect world, if we want to reduce our spiraling health care costs we should attempt to create a society where people feel good about themselves and live their lives in a stress-free mode. These would be people who don’t withhold, who are honest with their feelings and never lie or tell half-truths.

But, you might be saying, “Everyone experiences some kind of stress. It’s impossible to live without stress.” This, of course, is not true. Granted, it’s impossible to live without the issues that create stress, but it’s how we perceive those issues in our every day lives that determines the degree of stress we experience. People with high self-esteem confront issues in a direct manner, while those with low self-esteem do not. The latter fear the consequences of their actions. They fear the consequences of being honest.

Howard P. Greenwald, a sociologist and professor of public administration at the University of Southern California, gives little credence to the belief that cancer survival depends on the patient’s emotional state. He maintains the biggest factor determining who will overcome cancer is economic and social, that people with high incomes have the best chance of surviving cancer because they receive better primary health care.

To some degree, Mr. Greenwald is correct. But money aside, people at the bottom end of the economic spectrum, those struggling to make a living, are also the ones daily experiencing great stress in their lives, particularly when they are unable to pay their bills. A study conducted at Duke University Medical Center found that living with racism inflicts biological stress that can hasten death in black Americans.

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