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Stress and Your Health: 10 Q&As With Experts

happy-woman-laughing"You're going to worry yourself sick." We've all heard that. But can it really happen?

Find out, with 10 answers to your most interesting questions about stress and your health—all straight from the experts.

Will reducing stress make me live longer?

Reducing the long-term stress in your life (or your brain's response to that stress) will have a beneficial effect on health. And the longer you can stay healthy as you age, the more likely you are to increase your lifespan. Health benefits associated with lowered levels of stress hormones include reduced blood pressure; a reduced risk of developing heart disease, diabetes or depression; and a reduced susceptibility to infectious diseases.

2. Is worrying bad for my health?
Worrying is good if it helps you pay attention and resolve problems in your life. However, if worrying goes on for a long time without resolution, it can lead to an elevation of stress hormones, which can have a negative effect on your health.

3. Does laughter affect my health?
newsletter-graphicYes, it does. Laughter helps calm the brain and lower the amount of stress hormones in your blood. Also, when you laugh, you usually take deeper breaths than normal. This helps decrease those hormones as well.

4. Is crying healthy? Does it physically benefit my body?
Perhaps. Emotional tears contain much more protein than our continuous lubricating tears do. Some researchers think that, just as our kidneys cleanse our blood, so our tears cleanse us of certain emotion-related waste products.

5. Does getting a massage have any health benefits?
Studies suggest that massage therapy alters the body’s natural chemicals, resulting in a sense of well-being. These chemicals are known to decrease feelings of stress, depression, anxiety and pain. Massage therapy can also decrease swelling and increase flexibility. It has been linked to improving sleep, low-back pain, migraines, skin conditions, weight gain in preterm babies, and immune function. Some studies have demonstrated a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.

6. Does being a pet owner increase my life expectancy?
Pets boost optimism, decreasing loneliness and lowering stress hormones—all components that have been associated with living longer. One small study even found that people with pets recovered better from heart attacks!

7. Do colors really affect my mood?
Studies have shown that colors stimulate moods and alter energy levels, but no one fully understands why. Bright colors—especially red—are energizing and warm, whereas blues and greens are seen as more relaxing and calming. Explanations have been offered (brighter colors have a higher vibration rate, for example), but the data is neither uniform nor complete.

8. Can I make myself sick by convincing myself I am?
Yes, but it tends to be subtle and more a matter of expectation and mood than deliberation. Emotions and stressful thoughts can have a profound effect on your physical state. Some patterns of thinking are strongly associated with a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, especially pessimism, hostility and anxiety. Loneliness is as well. In drug trials, people routinely have bad side effects from a drug they think they’re taking, even if they’re taking the placebo.

9. Can I prevent getting sick by the way I think?
Yes, to a certain extent. Research shows strong links between better long-term health and things like sociability, optimism and a sense of meaning in life. Cultivating positive moods with optimistic thinking has also been linked with better immune function.



Steven E. Fox, Ph.D., clinical psychologist with 20 years of experience in Queens and Albany, N.Y.

Robert Pynoos, M.D., board-certified psychiatrist, UCLA Medical Center; professor of psychiatry, UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; director, UCLA Trauma Psychiatry Program; co-director, National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.

Bruce S. Rabin, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology and psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; medical director, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Healthy Lifestyle Program.

Elizabeth A. Reid, M.D., neurologist with 14 years experience in private practice (retired), medical columnist.

Mara Vucich, D.O., physiatrist, The Maryland Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center; board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Claire Michaels Wheeler M.D., Ph.D., integrative psychologist (focusing on writing and teaching); author, 10 Simple Solutions to Stress: How to Tame Tension & Start Enjoying Your Life.


Last updated and/or approved: November 2010.
Original questions and answers appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bios current as of those issues. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Comments (2)add comment
excellent post
written by Health Votes , November 26, 2010

this is a very good post, i agree with it completely. healthy living consists of a few things, like keeping yourself happy, stop worrying about things that are beyond your control, laugh/cry and let the emotion flow out rather than allow it to kill you from the inside.

absolutely agree with the article, just think positive and keep doing the good things,

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Mind over matter
written by Judy Rodman , November 10, 2010

Great article!! Reminds me of the way I and other singers can get routinely sick before an important show. I used to wonder about why- worrying and being anxious about it must play a part. Funny thing, with age and perspective, I find that I worry far less, and don't get sick nearly as often!
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