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In today’s world, dealing with stress has become routine. We tend to go through stressful situations almost daily, and if we don’t deal with this stress properly, it can have pretty harmful effects on our body as a whole. Particularly our immune system suffers the consequences of too much stress. Here is how stress weakens the immune system. We hope what you learn here will help you make some positive changes in your life.
Basics of Immunity
Before we get into how stress affects it, we need to understand the immune system as a whole. The purpose of the immune system is to protect the body against infections caused by germs and pathogens and heal damaged tissue caused by injuries or illness.
Then, we need to understand the two branches of the immune system. Firstly, there’s innate immunity. It is a general, rapid response to any threat the immune system finds within the body. Much like broad-spectrum antibiotics, this is not specific to the threat. The second is acquired immunity. This happens when the immune system comes across microbes and focuses specifically on learning about a threat to combat it in the future. It means your immune system will make specific ways to fight different types of viruses and bacteria. As you can conclude, immune system health is critical.
Suppressing Immune Cells
One of the most critical parts of our immune system is the white blood cells. These are our first line of defense against various illnesses and play a vital part in innate and acquired immunity. Stress weakens the immune system by reducing white blood cells production and negatively impacting some major types of blood cells. Specifically, acute stress reduces the production of killer cells and monocytes. Moreover, chronic stress affects the functionality of T-cells, which are another type of white blood cell. Thus, if you keep getting sick, it might be because you are constantly under stress. It is also important to note that the longer stress affects your immune system, the worse it gets. It might even lead to developing permanent problems with your immune system, namely autoimmune conditions, so be careful.
When humans experience stress, our body uses a survival response called fight-or-flight. In essence, this prepares the body to deal with a threat by flooding the body with stress hormones to put us on high alert. Blood moves away from your gut to the muscles, and heart rate and blood pressure increase. It usually leads to nausea, anxiety, and palpitation, which aren’t good. This reaction is helpful in dangerous situations; however, an extended period of stress and a constant state of alertness suppresses the immune system, leaving you more open to getting sick. It is very common for this to happen when going through lengthy and stressful processes such as moving. As such, relocation can take a toll on your health if you’re not careful with managing your stress. Therefore, it is imperative to take care of your mental and physical health when moving.
In addition to weakening your immune system, chronic fight-or-flight can lead to constant agitation.
Trouble with Sleeping
Another way in which stress weakens the immune system is by causing you to sleep less. When you are tired, your immune response is weakened, making you more susceptible to illnesses. It decreases white blood cell production and cytokines (which help with inflammations and infections) and suppresses melatonin (a hormone that helps combat stress while sleeping). When you are stressed, you might find that your mind is too active at night and find it hard to fall asleep. In extreme cases, prolonged stress even leads to stress-induced insomnia, which is an issue that you can solve relatively quickly. However, if not treated immediately, it can evolve into chronic insomnia, which leads to more stress. It is a vicious cycle that you are better off avoiding entirely, so take the time to look after yourself and destress when you notice you’re not getting enough sleep.
When you are injured, your body promotes healing and prevents further damage through inflammation. A regular inflammatory response dilutes blood capillaries to bring more white blood cells and nutrients to the injured area. Additionally, this brings antibodies to the area to prevent infection. Chronic inflammation, however, brings a lot more harm than good. Stress inhibits the body from regulating inflammations, leading to chronic inflammation and bringing about all sorts of issues. Therefore, becoming stress-hardy is very important.
Being stressed over a long period can lead to many medical issues; chronic inflammation is only one of them.
Reducing stress is vital to staying healthy. By relieving stress, you can avoid constant fight-or-flight, bring your white blood cell generation to normal levels and relieve inflammation. However, different stress relief methods have different benefits. For example, exercising regularly to reset fight-or-flight into rest-and-digest or changing to a healthy diet vitamin and mineral deficiencies helps a lot. Laughter was proven to boost the production of killer white blood cells. To find what works for you, you need to understand what is stressing you out in your day and find ways to deal with it. Finally, getting more sleep, in general, is a great way to boost your immune system and reduce stress overall.
Stress weakens the immune system in many ways and can negatively affect your body, especially if you have been stressed out over prolonged periods. It is crucial to identify the source and learn how to deal with it as soon as possible.