It is common to hear that stress is causing us to lose sleep, get fat, have headaches, ulcers, cancer, etc. etc. etc. Modern life is more stressful and different than before (as I mentioned in a previous post. This fascination for today's life being faster, more hectic etc. is because you are alive in it! Reasons given are presence of cell phones, internet, cars, etc...in 1550 AD the reasons were different, but I am certain that people at that time thought that they also are moving very fast....everyone feels that the period they live in is somehow special) and stress, like global warming, is blamed for all kinds of physical and mental illnesses.
That's quite okay- I don't expect the common man to be very smart in their conversation, but what bothers me is when serious professionals in medicine start using stress as a cause of illnesses. Causality is a difficult thing to establish (which is the reason this blog is called "False Conclusions") and physicians and medical professionals should be smart enough NEVER to attribute any illness to stress. Because we don't even scientifically know how to define stress. Definitions like I am stressed out because I just lost my job, just moved to a new city, divorced my wife, had a family member pass away, have an irritating neighbor, classmate etc. don't say anything. At any point in life, everyone has a number of things which are not perfect, and any and all can be, and are, attributed to causing stress. This tells us nothing.
A few years ago I went to a dentist because I was grinding my teeth while sleeping (bruxism). The doctor quizzed me about all the new stuff happening in my life (new city, new job, etc. etc.) and concluded that the bruxism was caused by stress. The remedy was right-an apparatus between my teeth while sleeping, muscle relaxants, and pain relievers, but the cause was not. Saying something like bruxism is caused by stress is saying nothing at all. The doctor's experience with this illness made her prescribe the right remedy-but she is not a very logical person and is not able to reason out things from first principles of science and mathematics, and the causal attribution is not correct.
Stress is imaginary, undefinable, and ascribing it to the cause of an illness is just a play of words in the end. One of the most absurd examples is when stress is the cause and the effect of a disorder or illness...e.g. loss of sleep. You often hear stress being caused by you not sleeping well at night these days, and the reverse-that you are not sleeping well these days because of stress in your life. You seem to go into a negative feedback loop of more stress-worse sleep-causing still more stress; not a good situation to be in....
Bruxism or ulcers in the stomach have unknown causes. Stress doesn't cause these conditions. If you believe like I do that human body, or any animal body, is an extremely robust system, then real causes are external or internal, and have certain characteristics. External factors, if causing an illness, have to manifest themselves in a physical (e.g. radiation causing you damage to skin or eye), chemical (e.g. ingesting a poison, getting in contact with sulfuric acid) or biological form (e.g. bacteria, viruses). Internal factors in the organism can be a deterioration in the organism spontaneously or with age, genetics, etc. All psychology related stuff can be safely thrown out of the window for real causes of illnesses. The psychologist and psychiatrist can still prescribe the right remedy-but they have little clue about true causality.
Because all illnesses from external (outside the body) causes should be traceable to physical, chemical and biological reasons, it becomes easier to see that all cures for these illnesses must also have a direct physical, chemical or biological impact on the organism. The cause and the cure of an illness are very similar in this sense-you can think of the cure as another input into the organism-to get rid of a previously inquired illness. Therefore, I also don't believe in talking cures (freudian kind, you talking about your childhood problems etc.) or cures from prayer, meditation, etc. Unless of course some illness might be cured simply by resting the body, with you being on a comfortable sofa (while talking to a PhD psychologist) being the real cause why you feel better, or you taking a comfortable cross legged position and doing no hard work being the real cause of you feeling better (e.g. in meditation). I have not much respect for psychologists (having studied several years of psychology myself) or Meditation/Yoga therapists for their professional abilities-even though I may like them personally.
Stress together with it's cousin anxiety are often blamed for eating disorders, generally people getting fat. The people who sell treatments for getting slim often use stress and anxiety as an all-encompassing cause for obesity. Stress and anxiety cause people to eat more and get obese, they say-so the trick is to reduce stress in life. In the end it is a game of words with nothing being said-and the poor patient keeps seeing these quacks for their obesity problems. And stress is also the effect of getting overweight, i.e. you are more stressed out these days because you are eating more. The word games go on and on.
Another example is smoking and stress. Smokers say that stress causes them to smoke more, and also, when they smoke more, they get more stressed. The absurdities with stress go on and on.
Even the venerable Mayo Clinic has a bunch of pages on stress induced illnesses:
I rest my case.
The real causes of all illnesses are somatic or physical, not psychological
In my younger (student) days I studied psychology for many years. From Freud to Skinner to Cognitive psychology, I studied it all (together with my Engineering, thankfully). After a few years, I realized how bad the whole thing was. Most of psychology is a play of words-causes of illnesses are some elaborate stuff like Depression, Anxiety, or funky acronyms like PTSD. There is no real information-just like astrology, the psychologists are playing their own game of words without anything to do with reality (many others examples exist-Financial Engineering, most of Economics, all of ergonomics, chiropractic, kinesiology, oncology, heart specialists, etc. etc...see other posts of the blog).
I am of the strong opinion that there are no psychological illnesses, that all illnesses are somatic. Ultimately what you qualify as Schizophrenia is also a somatic illness. Chemical and Physical problems in the body are the result of the symptoms of psychological illnesses. They are the real causes-putting a cause as Schizophrenia or Stress doesn't do me any good. Unless you actively intervene to try to change the chemical and physical imbalance, the patient with not get better. This intervention need not be medical-a move from a cold weather to a warm weather may cure depression, for example. But the real underlying cause of the illness is somatic, is the point to remember. If you agree with this, then life becomes a lot simpler. You are just like your dog or your buffalo, you need the right input of chemicals (or sunlight etc) to get better. They can be injected in you, you can eat something which will give you certain chemicals, you can have a physical problem with a part of your body which can go away by resting, etc. etc...but attributing the illness to somatic cause, just like you do for your car or scooter, makes the problem solvable in concrete terms. The solutions are repeatable, not subjective, and hold internationally. They also hold for animals and humans alike-as a good somatic based solution to any illness should.
See this post for the myth of alternative medicine.
See another example in this post.