The way you react to stress influences are much you’ll resist or succumb to disease, including HIV, and shy people are more susceptible to infection than outgoing people.UCLA’s Steve Cole says, “Since ancient Greece, physicians have noticed that persons with a ‘melancholic temperament’ are more vulnerable to viral infections.”

“During the AIDS epidemic, researchers found that introverted people got sick and died sooner than extroverted people,” says Bruce Naliboff. “Our study pinpoints the biological mechanism that connects personality and disease.”

The UCLA team studied the effect of stress on viruses in 54 HIV-positive men, who were all in the early stages of the disease and still in good health. They put each man through a series of stress tests, to measure their response to a series of beeps. “Shy persons didn’t adapt to the beeps as fast as other people,” Cole says. “Their heightened nervous system response indicated that the sound was more irritating to them.”

Other tests were given, in order to measure each subject’s overall “stress personality.” They were then followed for the next 12 to 18 months, to see how their HIV progressed. “We found a strong linear relationship between personality and HIV replication rate in the body,” says Cole. “Shy people with high stress responses possessed higher viral loads.”

Also, antiretroviral drugs gave very little help to the shy people. “Shy patients on drug therapy didn’t experience even a 10-fold drop in their viral load,” says Naliboff. “Doctors classify that as a treatment failure. The drugs should shrink HIV replication by at least 100 fold.”

“Our findings suggest that high nervous system activity helps the virus continue replicating,” Cole said. “Patients with high-stress personalities continued to lose T-cells?even on the best drug therapy available. Stress sabotages their battle against this lethal disease.”

“It looks as though sensitive people are simply wired to respond to stress more strongly than resilient people,” Naliboff says. “How someone reacts to stress seems to be more important than the stress itself in explaining why one person gets sick and one person doesn’t.”

“This heightened stress response is the equivalent of waves striking a stone on the beach,” Cole says. “One wave won’t do much damage. But the constant pounding of waves eventually grinds that stone to sand. That’s how continual stress response wears down the immune system.”

We need to learn to be brave, no matter what happens.

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