Stress and Immunity
Taking steps to manage stress is one of the best things you can do for your immunity. Since stress has a negative effect on the immune system, you may notice that you get sick regularly if you’re under a lot of long-term stress. Bacteria, germs, and viruses can have a much bigger impact on your immunity when you’re super-stressed, and here’s why.
Stress hormones are a major trigger for this. Normally, they’re released in response to a threat and then return to lower levels once the threat has passed. When you’re chronically stressed, the body’s “fight-or-flight” response is permanently switched on, and returning to lower levels doesn’t happen as often as it should.
The continued production of stress hormones increases inflammation in the body and hinders the immune system’s normal functioning. This includes dialing down the usual activity of immune cells such as T-cells. These immune cells usually fight against pathogens. When not taken care of properly, this type of stress can cause mental, emotional, and physical health problems. It can even make you age more rapidly, making you feel not quite like yourself.
As dangers come upon us, a distress signal is sent to the hypothalamus, the brain’s command center, by the sympathetic nervous system. Before we know it, adrenaline is flooding our bloodstream. The pituitary gland starts secreting ACTH which travels to the adrenal glands stimulating the release of cortisol.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It increases blood sugar, heart rate, respiration, dilates the pupils, and aids in breaking down fat, protein, and carbohydrates for energy. Cortisol also suppresses the immune system, digestion, and reproduction organs. These are thought of as non-essentials during a time when running for your life. Cortisol is essential during life or death situations but can be destructive when found in chronically elevated levels.
Is all stress bad? The answer is no.
Eustress is the good kind of stress that makes things happen, like a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis. Unfortunately, our bodies can not tell the difference between distress and eustress. The body just kicks into gear and sends off all the signals to fight or flight. Sadly, for some, this is happening all throughout the day, and what do you think is happening to the digestive system, immune system, and reproductive system when they are suppressed multiple times throughout the day? It leads to illness.
So, what can you do?
Be kind and loving to yourself. Think about how your day is going and decide if you need some gentle self-love to recharge. If you do, here are some ideas:
- Take a soothing bath with essential oils
- Read a great book
- Listen to soothing music
- Go for a walk
- Try sunbathing
- Try forest bathing
- Get a mani/Pedi
- Get a massage
- Go to a restorative yoga class
- Ask for help
Listen to your inner voice and maybe, do what it says.
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