Deepak Chopra: Stress Can Lead To Addiction, Illness

By David Konow 03/22/18

The alternative medicine advocate believes that learning to manage stress should be a major priority for everyone.

Deepak Chopra

Arguably the best known figure in alternative medicine, Deepak Chopra is a best-selling author, physician, and expert in the mind-body connection between our mental and physical health.

He has a lot to say on how mental turmoil can lead to illness and addiction, and he spoke about it in a new interview with Coveteur.

As Chopra explains, “Any disease you want to look at—cancer, heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, autoimmune illness, respiratory infection—you’ll find that underlying all of that is what is called ‘low-grade inflammation’ in the body. Inflammation by itself is a protective response... Now we know that chronic low-grade inflammation is a risk factor for every chronic illness.”

Chopra adds that the risk for contracting a disease can be “amplified” with inflammation, and that “stress is the cause of not only personal illness, but ultimately violence. The world is a projection of our collective stress right now—everything from war to terrorism to scarcity, consciousness, and government, to the stock market. It’s all a reflection of our stress.”

The cycle of stress can lead to conditions like insomnia, having a bad temper, fear, and fatigue, “but sooner or later it leads to addictive behaviors, whether it’s eating too much or substance abuse for a period of years. Ultimately it leads to all disease, from simple things like skin eruptions to complex things like cancer.”

Chopra also believes that the amount of stress doctors take on makes it difficult for them to care for patients. “Medical doctors are the most stressed. They have the highest burnout. They also have the highest addiction amongst all professions—the healthcare provider—they’re noticing it interferes with their ability to take care of other people."

Research published in JAMA shows that Chopra is right. Around 30 to 40% of physicians experience burnout, which can lead to medical errors and "higher job dissatisfaction, which has been associated with reduced patient satisfaction with medical care and patient adherence to treatment plans."

One of Chopra's main concerns is the amount of stress that future generations will be facing with challenges related to socioeconomic issues, climate change, social injustice and internet hacking. Though he believes that despite the possibly rocky future ahead, it's possible to learn how to manage stress. 

“Just as you learn to ride a bicycle. Everything is learnable. Everybody should know how to manage their stress, but they don’t. And now suddenly mindfulness, meditation, yoga have become very popular because people find that they’re living with more awareness.”

Chopra says it’s taken “thousands of studies” for modern physicians to learn the mind-body connection between stress and physical illness.

“There’s no separation between your mind, your brain, your immune system... What we need to change now, which is also happening, is the training of medical students, residents, and doctors. At checkups doctors will ask, ‘What’s your personal relationship? Your social interactions? Are you happy at your job?’ All of that is important.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.