Stress and Shingles, Mind and Body are One

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There is probably no more painful an experience than to be stricken with shingles. Shingles is also known as the Herpes Zoster virus. Anyone who has had chicken pox is in danger of developing shingles. Essentially, Chicken Pox is known as Varicella-Zoster virus. It never really leaves the system, lying dormant waiting for some trigger to set it off in the form of shingles. Shingles can attack any part of the body. It appears as a rash that irritates the nerves and that is what makes it so painful. It can range in seriousness from being mild and attacking a very small part of the body all the way to being severe even threatening eyesight if it occurs near the eyes.

If anything, shingles is a harsh reminder that mind and body are not separate. This is how it works:


Emotional Stress does not cause shingles because the virus already lies dormant in the body. However, emotional stress does wear away at the immune system, attacking it’s ability to defend the body against all kinds of illnesses. There are any number of types of stressful situations that can damage the immune system. For example, the death of a loved one, especially if it’s unexpected, can feel like a shock. Chronic stress at work or at home, can take their toll on health. Dealing with a boss who is hostile and critical is difficult for anyone to have to deal with on a daily basis. Constant bickering at home, whether with one’s spouse, the children or both, wear away at one’s coping ability. All of this impacts on health.

It is well established that stress triggers the “fight or flight” response. Normally, that response occurs when we are faced by a very real danger such as a car speeding down the street when we are about to cross. The autonomic nervous system then takes over without us being aware of it. Basically, the autonomic nervous system pulls a switch that turns on the warning system. This switch turns on the adrenal glans, adrenalin flows into the blood stream, the heart pumps much faster so that blood rapidly flows to the extremities so that we can fight or run away, and our blood pressure goes up. Normally speaking, once the danger is past, the switch is automatically turned off and we return to a sense of balance and normality. However, in human beings, the switch remains in the on position because stress does not go away. The total result of ongoing stress is that, with system remaining switched on, we experience health problems that impact the immune and cardio vascular systems. That is how we can end up with shingles. We can also end up with strokes, heart disease and other ailments.

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It’s important that people adopt methods of living that reduce the impact of stress. For example, physical exercise, meditation, yoga, eating healthfully and living a life that balances work and leisure, can all mitigate the negative impact of stress.

If you even suspect that you might have shingles see your doctor right away. The symptoms include, itching, burning and rash on your skin. Some people even develop a fever. I know, I have had the illness. It can be serious so do not wait to see your doctor.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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