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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Physical Illness

One common consequence of high stress is a physical illness. Among the more common sicknesses caused by prolonged stress are chronic headaches, ulcers, lower back pain, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and chronic fatigue. Stress also impairs our ability to concentrate and makes us accident-prone. Cecil Osborne (1967:198) writes:

[Emotional] stress creates a chemical imbalance resulting in malfunction of glands and other organs. The body then becomes unable to provide resistance to germs which are normally held in check. Since the mind tends to hand its pain, guilt, and grief over to the body by an unconscious process, we find it easier to incur physical illness than mental anguish. For one thing, we receive sympathy, which is a form of love, when we are physically ill; but the person suffering from mental anguish or depression is likely to be told to "snap out of it" or to "pull yourself together."

Illness in a foreign setting, however, only increases our anxiety, particularly if the medical services we are used to are not available. In strange settings, we easily become obsessed with health and cleanliness and magnify every symptom. Nor are such fears totally unfounded. We often do face strange diseases and dangers, and it is our lives that are at stake. Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

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