Learn how Stress impacts your Immune System

Stress is a part of life. There is no denying that in general, people are more stressed now than a few years ago. Each of us is living a faster and more pressure-filled life.

While these realities cannot be easily avoided, we can take steps to control and lower our stress naturally. We know there is a direct connection between stress levels and immune system health.

To put it simply, elevated and constant chronic stress are not good for your immune system. When your stress levels are continually high, your body is not able to function properly, affecting your immune system and putting you at increased risk of illness.

There are a number of conditions such as shingles, migraines, digestive problems, and hypertension that flare or become worse with stress. The good news is that we can take steps daily to lower our stress levels, which in turn supports our immune system and contributes to overall good health.

What is Stress?

The Cleveland Clinic defines stress as:

Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.

There are two types of stress – good stress and bad stress.

  • Good Stress: is the stress that provides us with motivation. Whether it’s going out for a walk, completing a work project, or any task that leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction. Good stress has some key characteristics:
    • It doesn’t last long. Generally, the sensations from good stress are over in minutes or hours.
    • It encourages you to accomplish a big goal or motivates you to get something done.
    • It gives you a feeling of confidence and excitement. 
  • Bad Stress: is the debilitating stress that can leave you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and defeated. Bad stress or chronic stress can stop you from doing the things you need to in order to benefit from good stress. For example, bad stress can make it hard for you to study for an exam that you need to write to graduate or make you feel so ill that you can’t exercise. Bad stress has some key characteristics:
    • It lasts a long time and can become a chronic illness.
    • It can stop you from doing the activities you enjoy and prevent you from spending time with friends and family.
    • It is exhausting, demoralizing, and depressing. Bad stress can leave you feeling stuck and unable to move forward.
    • It has severe physical and mental health consequences. 

How Stress Impacts Your Immune System Health 

Your immune system is constantly working to protect you from bacteria, viruses, cancerous cells and foreign bodies – all collectively known as antigens. White blood cells are the building blocks of your immune system and work to fight off antigens.

When you’re stressed, we release a hormone called corticosteroid. This stress hormone suppresses the immune system, reducing the number of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. This then makes it difficult for your immune system to keep working to defend against antigens.

In addition, how you deal with stress can have a negative impact on your immune system health. Some of us respond by eating unhealthy foods, skipping exercise, drinking, smoking, or staying up late and not sleeping. These stress coping responses have their own negative impacts on the immune system, making it very challenging for an already hampered immune system to defend against antigens and illness.

How To Lower Your Stress Naturally 

To lower your stress naturally, consider incorporating these healthy habits into your routine:

  • Write it down. Dig out a notebook and a pen and start your day by writing down your plans for the day. Prioritize your list. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to write down how your day went. Just getting this information out of your head on to the page can help you sleep and stay more focussed during the day.
  • Move your body. Get up from your desk and walk around the office. Open the door and breathe in the fresh air. Put on your shoes and go for a walk. The simple act of movement helps stimulate the immune system and triggers feel-good endorphins that can calm stress levels. 
  • Get back to nature. Research confirms that being in nature does wonders for our mental health and immune system health. Have your lunch in a nearby park. Plan a hike on the weekend with friends. Go for a mountain bike ride and take time to watch the birds. Sit out on your front step and listen to the outdoors.
  • Take natural supplements. Stress places a huge burden on your immune system and can cause you to have gastrointestinal or cardiovascular problems, trigger migraines, cause shingles to flare, and make you susceptible to colds and flu. This is the last thing you need when you’re already stressed. Taking a natural supplement that supports immune system health can have trickle-down effects on the rest of your body, giving you the ability to heal and recover.
  • Recognize your stressors. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. But if you can identify your stressors, you have the power to make changes in your life. This could mean disconnecting from social media, reducing your workload, asking for extra help at home, or taking a step back from negative relationships.

How To Get Help Managing Stress

If you or someone you know is burdened by stress or stress-related illness, do not delay – ask for help.

Keep this list of crisis helpline phone numbers easily accessible. When in doubt, dial 2-1-1.

Talk to your family doctor. Talk to a family member or friend. Call your local distress center. Do not try to tough it out – stress can be very dangerous.