How stress affects the immune system

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Stress can be caused by many factors in your life. But manage it, as too much stress can affect your immune system.

The immune system, a network of proteins, organs and white blood cells, is responsible for defending against invaders such as germs. Not only does it protect you from getting sick, but it also helps you heal when you are sick. Therefore, to strengthen your immune system, you must eat healthy foods, exercise, and sleep well. There are also things or habits that can weaken the immune system. Stress is one of them. For Stress Awareness Month, see how stress can affect your immune system.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s natural response to pressure or demands in your life. It can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as work, relationships, financial worries, or major life changes, including marriage. When facing stress, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing you for a “fight or flight” response.

Chronic stress can have a negative impact on the immune system. Image courtesy: Freepik

While stress can be beneficial to some extent, motivating you to perform better, chronic stress, which is long-term stress, can have significantly negative effects on physical and mental health, says mental health and behavioral sciences expert.
Dr Rahul Chandhok.

What are the ways that stress can affect the immune system?

While stress can harm your skin, it’s also not good for your immune system. People exposed to chronic stressors like abuse can experience immune dysregulation that can be persistent and severe, according to 2015 research published in Current opinion in psychology Daily. See how stress can affect the immune system:

1. Increased cortisol levels

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body respond to stress, says the expert. However, chronically high levels of cortisol can suppress immune function by reducing the production of lymphocytes, which are white blood cells needed to fight infections.

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2. Inflammation

Prolonged stress can promote inflammation in the body, which can affect the immune response. Chronic inflammation can impair the body’s ability to fight pathogens and increase susceptibility to disease.

3. Disruption of sleep patterns

Stress often disrupts sleep patterns, resulting in poor sleep quality or insomnia. If you don’t get enough sleep, you can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections.

4. Impact on gut health

The gut and immune system are closely intertwined, says Dr. Chandhok. Stress can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, impairing immune function and increasing vulnerability to gastrointestinal infections and inflammation.

5. Negative coping behavior

Some people may cope with stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or poor eating habits. These behaviors can compromise the immune system and increase the risk of infections and chronic diseases.

6. Psychological effects

Stress can contribute to psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are associated with immune dysfunction, says the expert. Psychological distress can hinder communication between the brain and the immune system, resulting in dysregulation of immune responses.

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Manage stress to boost immunity. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to manage stress to boost immunity?

Here are some ways to manage stress effectively and boost immunity:

1. Regular exercise

Practice physical activities regularly. Make walking, running, jogging, yoga or dancing a regular part of your lifestyle. Exercise helps reduce stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins, promoting a feeling of well-being and strengthening the immune system.

2. Healthy diet

Consuming vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help. Nutrient-rich foods provide essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support immune function and combat the effects of stress.

3. Stress relief techniques

Deep breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness are some of the relaxation techniques you can practice. They can help promote relaxation, reducing stress levelsand improving immune function.

4. Adequate sleep

Make sure you get quality sleep, so maintain a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and have a comfortable sleep environment. Adequate sleep is necessary for immune function and overall health, says expert.

5. Social support

Don’t hesitate to talk to family, friends, or support groups about the causes of your stress. Interacting with people who care about you and understand you can provide emotional support, reduce feelings of isolation, and alleviate stress.

6. Time management

Prioritize tasks, set realistic work-life goals, and manage your time effectively to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Break down tasks into smaller steps that can be easily managed by you.

7. Limit stressors

Identify what is causing your stress and take steps to minimize or avoid stressors whenever possible. Doing so may involve setting boundaries with people, saying no when necessary, or seeking professional help for ongoing stressors.

8. Hobbies and leisure activities

Indulge in activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as spending time in nature or listening to music. Making time for leisure activities can help reduce stress levels and promote overall well-being.

It’s important not to be stressed all the time. It can weaken the immune system, so follow these tips to effectively help manage stress and support a healthy immune system.

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