Blacks are twice as likely to be infected with Hepatitis C and it comes with its own share of challenges, stress being one of them. It’s natural for everyone to feel stress, but people with hepatitis C have additional concerns. There’s the prospect of medical tests and procedures, worry over medical bills, and the fear of infecting others to name a few. Some people feel angry either at themselves or at someone else, or simply at the rotten blow that life has handed them. That anger can lead to depression, which only adds to the burden of emotional stress.
Being diagnosed with hepatitis C can be especially stressful because of the uncertainty associated with its course. Uncertainty creates a feeling of helplessness, which, researchers have learned, is one of the key factors in stress. Having a lot of demands on you isn’t inherently stressful, after all. Not having control over those demands is.
Taking stress seriously
Stress can erode the quality of life, taking the pleasure out of work and relationships. It can also compromise overall health. There is no direct evidence that chronic stress worsens hepatitis C infection or injures the liver, but there is good evidence that chronic stress can impair the immune system. Easing stress, on the other hand, can boost immunity.
The most startling evidence comes from experiments involving AIDS patients. In research conducted by Michael Antoni, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Florida at Coral Gables, volunteers who took part in group sessions on stress reduction lowered their levels of cortisol and noradrenaline (two hormones associated with stress that are known to impair immunity). One year after learning and practicing stress-reduction techniques, the volunteers had significantly more new T cells (the immune cells that are generated to fight infections). So by learning to handle stress, the volunteers were actually able to restore some of their immune function.
Reducing stress has also been shown to alleviate symptoms of other conditions, such as heart disease and asthma. Learning to cope with stress is obviously important for your emotional well-being, but it’s also important for your overall physical health.
Know the danger signs
The first step is recognizing the symptoms of too much stress. Remember: Not all stress is negative. Pressures at work and occasional tensions within your family are a normal part of life. Sometimes stress pushes you to do your best. However, stress becomes negative when you feel as if you can’t escape it, or when you feel as if the pressures in your life are out of control.
The immediate physical reaction to stress can include high blood pressure, perspiration, a racing pulse, and a fluttering feeling in your chest. Adrenaline, the biochemical that readies the body for fight or flight, surges into the bloodstream. Other typical signs of stress include:
- Neck, shoulder, or back pain
- Loss of concentration
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption
- Stomach pain, cramps, and diarrhea
Unfortunately, there is no objective test for stress. But if you feel as if the pressures of dealing with hepatitis C are a problem for you, it’s