For at least three decades, researchers have gathered evidence that chronic stress puts pressure on the body to constantly adjust itself to restore physiological stability. This process is known as allostatic load and it creates a cascade of toxic metabolic activities that cause wear and tear on the body.
Allostatic load makes people vulnerable to various types of cardiac, gastrointestinal, endocrinological, immunological, neurological, metabolic and psychiatric problems.
Evidence is emerging to show that psychosocial and economic stressors influence health outcomes. But neither our physicians, nor our health-care systems, have the necessary tools and methods to integrate those social and economic factors into our diagnoses or preventive care.
Here is a personal example: Recently, I called my physician to report mysterious new pains. The thorough investigation and note-taking that followed would have been very useful if I had suffered a specific infection or injury, or if my blood work was imperfect. But I had symptoms that began slowly and were increasing in frequency with COVID- and work-related stresses.
The more she pressed for identifying how, where and when exactly my pains had begun, the more I felt guilty about my imprecise condition. When I joked that I just needed a month to hang out with Freud in the Alps, she suggested prescribing antidepressants. Falling back to self-blaming humour: “Maybe this is all psychosomatic,” I said.