How To Deal with the Effect of Stress on Your Immune System

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Stress is an inevitable part of our lives. From your child’s school stress to your accumulated work stress, we deal with these things every single day. However, over the past month, our stress levels have become significantly higher with the global pandemic we’re facing. 

It is paramount for us to discuss the effects of stress right now. We need to be aware of the impact of stress on our bodies and find out how we can best respond to it. The better we are at handling stress, the more capable we are at coping with our current situation. 

What stress really is

Stress is simply your body’s response when changes occur. It can be positive when it makes us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. But it can also be negative when you face continuous challenges and there is no relief between stressors. 

This kind of negative stress happens when life events surpass your ability to cope. Our body’s sympathetic nervous system responds with an increased level of cortisol, a stress hormone that causes inflammation. It is this kind of stress that needs to be addressed and managed well. Although our “fight or flight” response is crucial for survival, it can be damaging to the body when active for a prolonged period of time. 

Effects of stress on your immune system

1. It lowers your ability to fight infection.

Stress lowers your lymphocyte count, which is the white blood cells that help your body fight off an infection. When you have a low lymphocyte count, your body’s defence is weakened and you become more susceptible to viruses. Given our current circumstances, this is the last thing you need! 

This has been proven scientifically as well. A study done in the early 1980s by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, and immunologist Ronald Glaser, PhD, showed that the immunity of students went down every year under the stress of a three-day exam period.

2. It causes depression. 

Increased stress causes depression and anxiety. This leads to higher inflammation levels which can lead to an over-worked immune system that would otherwise be able to protect you. 

A study was done in 2002 by Lyanne McGuire, PhD, of John Hopkins School of Medicine with Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser, showing that chronic and sub-clinical mild depression may suppress an older person’s immune system. It also revealed that the key immune factor was not the severity of the depression but the duration! This means that the longer you are depressed, the more immuno-compromised you will be. 

3. It can lead to harmful behaviors. 

Prolonged stress response results in a condition we know as distress. This is a negative stress reaction that can lead to harmful behaviors. Distressed people may resort to compulsive use of substances or engage in behaviors that they believe can help them reduce their stress. 

This can include drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and even food. It may also lead someone to excessive gambling, shopping, sex, or internet use. However, these behaviors do not provide the relaxed state that people are looking for. It only leaves them more stressed and thus causes more problems. This often leaves the distressed person trapped in a vicious cycle.  

Coping with stress

Now that we’ve seen the harmful effects of stress, it is important that we know how to manage it especially during this time when we have stressors everywhere. 

  1. Meditation – Meditate for 10 to 15 minutes a day to reduce your stress. This lowers your cortisol levels and lessens inflammation. 
  2. Sleeping – Make sure to sleep 7 to 8 hours a day. Give your body time to recover from the stressful events around you.
  3. Yoga – Practicing yoga will calm your nervous system and lower your stress hormones. Deep breathing also boosts your resistance to infection. 
  4. Social support – People with strong social support have better overall health. Stay connected with your friends and loved ones. 
  5. Exercise – When your body is fit, you can fight stress better. A healthier body is more resistant to infection.
  6. Eat Healthy – This one goes along with exercise. Healthy, well-balanced meals will not only give you good nutrition but also help boost your immune system. 
  7. Positive Thinking – Fill your mind with positive thoughts. Studies show that people who think positively fare better than those who don’t.  
  8. Set Limits – You are allowed to say no. Decrease your stressors by limiting your commitments. Use your time for things you enjoy and not those that stress you.   
  9. Acceptance – Accept that there are things you cannot control. This will free you up from a lot of pent-up emotions. Focus on the things that are within your control instead. 
  10. Hobbies – Do something you love like a hobby or a passion project you have long shelved. It’s important to do things that make you happy!
  11. Chiropractic care – Prolonged stress takes a toll on the body’s sympathetic nervous system, it is important to get checked for subluxation and remove any nervous interference to allow the body to function at its optimal. 

Stress is something that can be managed. It is vital that you recognize your stressors, avoid them, and do something that will counter the stress you’re feeling. Stay connected with your loved ones especially during this time. Whether you’re experiencing mild or chronic stress, it’s important that you cope with the help of people around you. 

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