When your body is subjected to a sudden stress, for example, if you are assaulted, your system immediately secretes various hormones and chemicals (like epinephrine and cortisol) to help your body respond quickly.
Your mind becomes instantly more focused, your eyes dilate, your muscle strength improves, your heart pumps faster, your blood pressure rises….all this to help you react quickly to a stressful situation.
And all this is great in rare situations like assaults (even verbal attacks) or even if you have to make an important presentation to a group, but if your body receives these stress signals on a long-term basis, it takes a tremendous stress on your system.
Some people—unfortunately many people these days—suffer from chronic (long-term) secretion of these stress chemicals. The long-term adverse effects include hypertension, increased blood coagulation (leading to heart attacks and strokes), wear and tear on your heart muscle, and diminished immune function, among others.
The bottom line: if your body is exposed to chronic stress, you are more prone to be sick, from simple sicknesses like colds and headaches, to more serious problems like cancer.
Imagine the chronic stress on your body if you had to hide an important part of who you were, your real self, 24 hours per day. This must be a tremendous stress on the system.
To investigate this issue scientifically, researchers at Canada’s Center for the Study of Human Stress at Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal designed an interesting and simple research study.
They found a group of 87 healthy volunteers, average age 25, half of whom were men, half women, and half were (self-identified) lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) and half heterosexual.
Over several days they carried out a battery of blood, urine, and saliva tests to measure “twenty-one biomarkers representing neuroendocrine, immune/inflammatory, metabolic, and cardiovascular functioning. Psychological measures were assessed with well-validated questionnaires.”
1. LGB who were “out” about their sexuality had significantly fewer signs of depression, anxiety, and emotional burnout than LGB who were still in the closet. Further, the “out” LGB individuals had significantly lower levels of the main stress hormone, cortisol.
2. One result that surprised the researchers was that openly LGB individuals were just as happy, healthy and satisfied with their jobs as the straight people. And amongst the men at least, the “out” LGB had lower rates of depression, and were more physically fit, than matched straight men.
The authors caution that this study was done in Montreal, an advanced and progressive city, and that the results in a more repressive environment might be different. Still, it gives still-closeted LGB individuals another reason to come out—they might well become in the long run (after the probably stressful coming out period), less stressed and healthier.
Finally, one of the study authors, Dr. Nathan Grant Smith gives even a bigger picture: “Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate but a matter of public health…Internationally, societies must endeavor to facilitate this self-acceptance by promoting tolerance, progressing policy, and dispelling stigma for all minorities.”
See also in ProcuraMed:
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