The impact stress has on mental health is increasingly well-known, but another reason for seeking help to relieve it is the growing understanding of how it can be highly damaging to physical health too.
A new study by the University of Southern California, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that stress has a deleterious effect on the immune system, significantly increasing their vulnerability to conditions such as cancer heart disease and Covid-19.
This premature weakening of the immune system, the research noted, might help explain disparities in age-related health outcomes between different groups, not least in the pandemic.
Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Eric Klopack said: "As the world's population of older adults increases, understanding disparities in age-related health is essential. Age-related changes in the immune system play a critical role in declining health.”
The study of over-50s found those with more stress saw a greater drop in the provision of white blood cells as they aged, making them more vulnerable to potentially lethal diseases.
For many professionals in middle age, this could provide another good reason to work with a wellbeing coach to live a less stressful life, both in work and at home, as this will have benefits for health.
The study did find that those with weaker immune systems had a less healthy diet, but while improvements in this area could partially offset the impact of more stress, those looking for the best outcomes will be those who both eat better and live with less stress.
It is not the first time that stress has been linked with bad physical health; it has long been known to have an association with conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to Diabetes. However, this is the first time a clear causal pathway from stress to disease via the immune system has been identified.