This is Your Immune System on Stress
Russell Skinner, MD
Are you constantly struck down by colds, flu and other infections – no matter how well you look after yourself?
If yes, then perhaps your stress levels are to blame.
Stress is the body’s reaction to a physical, mental or emotional strain or tension. It is brought upon by physiological, psychological and environmental events that the body perceives as challenging, threatening or demanding. These events are called stressors.
When stressors are present, your body’s “fight-or-flight” reaction gets turned on. Your brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system resulting in an onslaught of stress hormones being pumped around the body. While these hormones are useful in acute situations, their ability to interfere with the immune system can result in inflammation, reduced white blood cells, and a higher susceptibility to infection and tissue damage.
What are the effects of chronic stress on the immune system?
The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream. They move in and out of tissues and organs, defending the body against foreign bodies (antigens), such as bacteria, viruses, and cancerous cells.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:
That's why it's so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
Managing and coping with stress more successfully
It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about your stress level. Your family and career responsibilities are always demanding, the bills aren’t going to stop coming, and there are never enough hours in the day for all your errands. But you have a lot more control than you might think.
Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. There are a few ways that may help you reduce stress more successfully:
The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.
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