Having to think back and recall the last few times I was sick actually took a great deal of effort to tap into my memory. Why? I do not get sick very often. I know that in the last few years I have not been sick at all but thinking back to times that I have been sick, though the memories are not extremely vivid, I am sure that I can say that I was stressed out at the time of coming down with something. Although I may not be able to pinpoint or remember what exactly it was that may have been stressing me out, I spent a lot of my time “back then” stressed out due to my job. At the time I was active duty military as a Security Forces member (the Air Force’s version of military police) and the hours were long, the job was demanding both physically and emotionally, and the people were often frustrating to deal with. I would say that I would get sick about three times a year with anything from the common cold to other things like strep throat and bronchitis. Now, I will say that because I interacted with the public a lot I was exposed to a lot more of the germs that cause sickness but the stress of my job most defifnitely attributed to it and this is why – A normal process of stress response starts with a rapid response to a stressor with the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which releases epinephrine and norepinephrine, it also triggers the HPA axis to release CRH, ACTH, and AVP hormones which all work together to adapt to the original stressor. (Klein and Corwin, 2002) However, if the stressor does not go away or there is repeated activation to this system – the system will essentially wear out and begin to have negative effects on an individual thus making them more likely to have a weakened immune system which makes a person more likely to become sick. Not only does disregulation of these hormones and responses contribute to a higher chance of becoming sick but it can also increase the risk of developing other disorders like anxiety, depression, concentration issues, and sleeping difficulties – to name a few (Klein and Corwin, 2002). Another reason that I believe that stress played a role in my health when I was in the military is due to the fact that I have been a civilian for a little over three years now; since getting out, I have worked in a job that still requires me to interact a great deal with the public but this job does not come with nearly the same level of stress as my previous job and magically I have not been sick since getting out of the service (if I have, I truly do not remember it). Although I served eight years, for my health’s sake, it was probably best that I separated because prolonged negative emotions, stress being one of them, have the potential to cause illness, prolong infection and healing, and increase chemical production that will weaken the immune system and increase the change of other disease like cardiovascular disease (Kiecolt-Glaser, et al. 2002).
Now, studies have shown time and time again, that because I am a female I am more likely to have negative reactions to stress and deal with them a little harder than a man would. There are studies that have shown that even as early as the age of six, girls are more likely than boys to have some kind of anxiety disorder (McLean and Anderson, 2008). However, I will say that I do not quite fit into that mold. Of all my female friends and sisters, I tend to be the one that is the most relaxed in nearly any situation and seem to be the one that keeps the level head and the voice of reason. Females normally tend to have emotional-based coping skills when it comes to stress but I would say that I normally tend to lean more towards problem-coping strategies (McLean and Anderson, 2008). If a stressful situation comes about, I look at the bigger picture, take in all aspects of the problem, figure out what will fix the situation and execute. Whereas, someone like my sister becomes a complete crazy-head, jumping to conclusions and thinking herself into an even bigger emotional mess (please don’t get me wrong…I love my sister dearly). In highly stressful situations I tend to have a more fight-or-flight stress response but on a day-to-day basis I still have the tend-befriend response too – ya know, the “girly” response. Because I am a women, according to studies my stress response should normally run along the lines of tending and befriending which promote activities that are safe and nonstressful and encourage more social relationships. These types of activities also create higher levels of oxytocin which studies have shown correlates with lower stress levels (McLean and Anderson, 2008). These increased level of oxytocin promote, what can be catergorized as, womanly behaviors like trying to keep the harmony amongst others, maternal bonding, and manogomy (Klein & Corwin, 2002). Due to this tend and befriend stress response, women are more likely than men to have several relationships with members of the same sex, and as long as these relationships are positive they can help promote a normal immune system – which we all know, assists in fighting off any sickness. As far as I am go – I definitely do follow what “they’” say and nine times out of ten will go to my girl friends when I need to vent about a stressful event (World Campus, Unit 2: Stress Response).
So, as far as my childhood and the parts about it that could have played a role in how I deal with stress today goes, I have a lot of positive things going for me. Although I was raised by a single mom and spent a lot of time in daycare, after school programs, and with relatives, my mother and I had then and still to this day a very close relationship. She always let me know that she loved me and reassured me that she cared and studies have shown that it is more likely that adults will develop effective coping skills to deal with stress if they received normal amounts of affection ad care as children (Higgins, 2008). I can also attribute my developed resiliency and coping to the fact that my mom raised me with autonomy-granting control. She also encouraged my independence and thinking to solve problems and it has been shown that mothers that were less controlling produced daughters that were normally less anxious than girls whose mothers were very much involved with situational resolution (Mclean and Anderson, 2008).
So, in wrapping everything up, it has been years since I am gotten sick and lack of stress being a contributing factor to my immune system holding strong. And although, because I am a female, there are a ton of factors that say that I am more likely to deal with stress negatively and I am at a higher risk for developing different types of anxiety disorders, I feel that I can safely say that I am really not that stressed out nor do I worry that I will develop any type of anxiety disorder. My childhood and the way my mom raised me definitely contributes to my abilities to deal with stress and bounce back from negative situations quickly thus keeping my stress levels low and in turn keeping me as healthy as a horse (or a man).
Higgins, E. S. (2008). The New Genetics of Mental Illness. Scientific American Mind, 19(3), 40-47.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., McGuire, L., Robles, T. F., & Glaser, R. (2002). EMOTIONS, MORBIDITY, AND MORTALITY: New Perspectives from Psychoneuroimmunology. Annual Review Of Psychology, 53(1), 83.
Klein, L.C. & Corwin, E.J. Curr Psychiatry Rep (2002) 4: 441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-002-0072-z
Unit 2: Stress Response. (n.d.). Reading presented at PSYCH 475 Psychology of Fear and Stress in Penn State World Campus . Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses
McLean, C. P., & Anderson, E. R. (2009). Brave men and timid women? A review of the gender differences in fear and anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(6), 496-505.