Stress macht uns krank

Stress makes us ill

Feelings Also Shape the Body

Emotions trigger biochemical reactions in the body. Some of these reactions promote health, while others contribute to disease.


Emotional and Physical Stress Make Us Sick

Research has shown that emotional stress is as harmful as physical stress. Regular marginalization or humiliation at school or work, discrimination against women or dissenters, having a chronically ill loved one, or constant conflicts with a partner can all lead to stress-related increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and the mobilization of sugar and fat. These are visible physical symptoms of stress hormones at work. Brain research and psychoneuroimmunology measure these responses in laboratories using urine, saliva, and blood samples, as well as by monitoring electrical charges (e.g., muscle reactions like laughter or sadness), skin resistance, and heart rhythm. Ultra-fast photography captures pupil reactions and facial expressions following emotional stressors.


For example, research has demonstrated an increase in certain inflammation markers in urine as a response to stress.


Short-term vs. Long-term Stress

In the short term, heightened inflammatory activity due to stress can be beneficial. The body becomes more efficient, immune activity increases, and natural killer (NK) cells become more active. However, if stress persists, inflammation intensifies and weakens the body. Chronic inflammatory reactions keep NK cells in a state of readiness, like emergency responders at a festival. These cells are our main immune defense system.


Simultaneously, thymic epithelial cells, which function like intelligence agents distinguishing between self-substances and invading threats, are also heavily taxed. This "intelligence service" is our autoimmune system, tasked with combating invaders and neutralizing threats. Persistent stress keeps inflammatory reactions active, causing the body to release cortisol, which acts like a fire extinguisher. However, prolonged cortisol release weakens both the emergency responders and the intelligence service. Consequently, the autoimmune system may malfunction, attacking the body’s own cells, while scavenger cells fail to detect tumor cells.


Although research is ongoing, psychoneuroimmunologists are already calling for a paradigm shift in medicine. Addressing the root causes of chronic stress is crucial. According to Christian Schubert, "If you don't address this, you essentially sabotage yourself permanently."


The Contagious Nature of Emotions

Empathy, a sense of community, appreciation, and respect activate feel-good neurotransmitters, promoting healing and health. Experiencing these positive emotions triggers biochemical reactions in the brain's motivation system, generating relaxation and a sense of well-being, which is often reflected in our facial expressions. With 43 facial muscles compared to 26 letters in the alphabet, our faces can express a wide range of emotions.


Positive emotions are also contagious, triggering similar biochemical reactions in others and fostering their well-being. Sensing what others feel, cooperating with them, appreciating, and respecting them not only enhances our own health but also that of others.

Back to blog