Stress and the Immune System: Why You Should Care

by | Jun 23, 2020

stress immune system

Stress is a sneaky culprit for many mystery ailments we deal with. Increased stress affects the overall balance of just about every system in the human body. One of these is the immune system. Here, we’ll cover why you should care about stress and the immune system, and what you can do to stop the effects in their tracks. 

The immune system consists of billions of cells traveling through the bloodstream helping to fight foreign bodies, or antigens. These can be bacteria, viruses and even cancerous cells. 

When the body is under stress, certain hormones are higher than normal. A major player here is cortisol. High levels of cortisol, even in the short term, can cause problems from lack of sleep to weight gain. It can also be responsible for suppressing the immune system. The hormone shifts that come with feeling stressed interfere with the white blood cell response, meaning you’re way more likely to get sick or experience frequent infections. With a weakened immune system, you can also take longer to heal once you get sick. Over time, this wear and tear on the white blood cells is problematic. 

Stress and the digestive system

Stress also impairs the function of the digestive system. This is relevant because digestive health is strongly linked to immune health, and the two work in tandem to keep you healthy. “A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract,” says Dan Peterson, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Recent findings suggest that GI tract alterations can even lead to autoimmune disease. Because stress leads to digestive issues which are linked to immune issues, this is another reason to keep stress levels at bay.

How do I handle stress to help my immune system? 

Amidst a global pandemic with constantly rising numbers, the health of our immune systems is more important than ever. Unfortunately, the occasional serving of Emergen-C won’t outdo poor stress management. This summer, work on your coping and prevention strategies when stress starts to pile up. Here are three helpful tips to prevent stress and deal with its effects.

  • Try meditation. Meditation and mindfulness not only lower your cortisol levels immediately, but they also equip you to handle stress in your life. 
  • Prioritize sleep. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol which makes stress worse, and has the same effect on the immune system.
  • Cut down on caffeine. If you’re a one-a-day (or even two) coffee lover, no reason to fret. But if you’re drinking more than that, try to slowly back off to these recommendations. Too much caffeine can have the same effect as high levels of stress, and it can cause anxiety. Caffeine also interferes with sleep, continuing the cycle of stress and sickness.
  • Take a daily probiotic. As mentioned earlier, taking care of your digestive health in response to increased stress will help your immune system be ready to fight back.

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