With your hectic schedule, it’s hard not to constantly feel stressed out. You’re more than aware of the negative effect stress has on your mental and physical health, but did you also know it can negatively affect your immune system? Here are some ways stress impacts the immune system and some ways you can combat it.
Can Stress and Anxiety Affect Your Immune System?
Anxiety and stress can trigger your flight-or-fight stress response, releasing a flood of chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol. Long-term exposure to cortisol can contribute to weight gain, which significantly weakens your immune system. While these chemicals may be helpful for the occasional high-stress event, chronic stress can be harmful to your physical health in the long run.
If you repeatedly feel anxious or stressed, your body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning. This will weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses. On top of that, your regular vaccines may not be as effective if you have anxiety.
It’s important to know the symptoms of stress. This will allow you to know when you’re dealing with stress, giving you an opportunity to employ stress-fighting techniques. Here are some of the common symptoms of stress:
- Aches and pains
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds or flu
- Trouble sleeping
Some of these signs are common among other ailments as well, so just because you are experiencing one of them it doesn’t necessarily mean you are dealing with stress. If your stress ever reaches a point where it feels debilitating, consult with your doctor.
Can Stress Increase Antibodies?
Believe it or not, there is some belief amongst researchers that small amounts of stress can actually be beneficial to your immune system. There is even hope that we may someday be able to manipulate stress-hormone levels to improve responses to vaccines or recovery from surgery or wounds. This is because, as mentioned earlier, stress triggers our body’s flight-or-fight response.
In the short term, stress increases your pulse and breathing rate so your brain can get more oxygen. This can even lead to a brief boost to your immune system. With occasional stress, your body returns to normal functioning when the stress passes. However, being constantly stressed out prevents your body from returning to normal functioning, weakening your immune system.
What Causes a Weak Immune System?
There isn’t one thing in particular that causes a weak immune system. Many people are born with a weak immune system while many others develop it over time due to disease or poor lifestyle habits. Here are some of the reasons why you might have a weak immune system:
- Primary immune deficiency - being born with a weak immune system
- Acquired immune deficiency - getting a disease that weakens your immune system
- An allergic reaction may cause your immune system to be too active
- Autoimmune disease - your immune system turns against you
Some signs that you may have a weakened immune system include constant colds, high levels of stress, stomach pains, slow heal times on wounds, and frequent infections. If you believe that you may have low immunity, you should consult with your doctor. A doctor can conduct a weak immune system test to gauge the strength of your immune system.
How Relaxation Affects The Immune System
When stress compromises our immune function, it can result in colds, flu, fatigue, cardiovascular disorders, and premature aging. By reducing the amount of stress our body faces, you can protect your immune system while feeling younger and healthier. Here are some ways you can reduce stress, boost your immunity, and slow down aging:
- Yoga and stretching
- Walking and physical activity (but not too much physical activity)
- High nutrient diet
- Positive thinking
Dealing with stress before it reaches a tipping point can help protect your body. Not only will it boost your immunity, but it will improve your overall well being. Lower stress is also linked to longer longevity.
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