Stress Awareness Month: Does stress affect immune system?

Stress can be caused by various factors in your life. But manage it, as too much of stress can affect your immune system.
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Check out how stress and immune system are connected. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Updated: 17 Apr 2024, 05:45 pm IST

The immune system, a network of proteins, organs and white blood cells, is responsible for defending against invaders like germs. It not only protects you from falling ill, but it also helps in healing when you are sick. So, to strengthen your immune system, you should eat healthy foods, exercise and sleep well. There are also things or habits that can weaken your immune system. Stress is one of them. On Stress Awareness Month, here’s how stress can affect your immune system.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s natural response to pressure or demands in your life. It can be triggered by various factors like work, relationships, financial concerns, or major life changes, including marriage. While facing stress, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing it for a “fight or flight” response.

Chronic stress can have a negative impact on the immune system. Image courtesy: Freepik

While stress to some extent can be beneficial, motivating you to perform better, chronic stress, which is a long-term stress, can have significantly negative effects on physical and mental health, says mental health and behavioural science expert
Dr Rahul Chandhok.

What are the ways stress can affect the immune system?

While stress can harm your skin, it is also not good for your immune system. People exposed to chronic stressors like abuse can have immune dysregulation that may be persistent and severe, according to a 2015 research published in the Current Opinion in Psychology journal. Here is how stress can impact the immune system:

1. Increased cortisol levels

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body in responding to stress, says the expert. However, chronically elevated cortisol levels can suppress immune function by reducing the production of lymphocytes, which are white blood cells necessary for fighting off infections.

2. Inflammation

Prolonged stress can promote inflammation in the body, which may affect immune response. Chronic inflammation can impair the body’s ability to fight pathogens and increase susceptibility to illnesses.

3. Disruption of sleep patterns

Stress often disrupts sleep patterns, resulting in poor sleep quality or insomnia. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections.

4. Impact on gut health

The gut and immune system are closely interconnected, says Dr Chandhok. Stress can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, impairing immune function and increasing vulnerability to gastrointestinal infections and inflammation.

5. Negative coping behaviour

Some people may cope with stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviours like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or poor dietary habits. These behaviours can compromise the immune system and increase the risk of infections and chronic diseases.

6. Psychological effects

Stress can contribute to psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, which are linked with immune dysfunction, says the expert. Psychological distress can hinder communication between the brain and immune system, resulting in dysregulation of immune responses.

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Manage stress to boost immunity. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to manage stress to boost immunity?

Here are some ways to manage stress effectively and boost immunity:

1. Regular exercise

Indulge in physical activity regularly, Make walking, running, jogging, yoga, or dancing a regular part of your lifestyle. Exercise helps in reducing stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins, promoting a sense of well-being and strengthening the immune system.

2. Healthy diet

Consuming vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean proteins along with healthy fats can help. Nutrient-dense foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support immune function and combat the effects of stress.

3. Stress-relief techniques

Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness are some of the relaxation techniques you can practice. They can help in promoting relaxation, reducing stress levels, and enhancing immune function.

4. Adequate sleep

Make sure you get quality sleep, so maintain a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and have a comfortable sleep environment. Adequate sleep is necessary for immune function and overall health, says the expert.

5. Social support

Don’t hesitate to talk to family members, friends or support groups about the causes of your stress. Interacting with people who care about you and understand you, can provide emotional support, reduce feelings of isolation, and alleviate stress.

6. Time management

Prioritise tasks, set realistic goals related to work and personal life, and manage your time effectively to prevent feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Break tasks into smaller steps that can be easily managed by you.

7. Limit stressors

Identify what is causing stress and take steps to minimise or avoid the stressors whenever possible. Doing this may involve setting boundaries with people, saying no wherever necessary, or seeking professional help for ongoing stressors.

8. Hobbies and leisure activities

Indulge in activities that bring joy and relaxation, like spending time in nature or listening to music. Taking time for leisure activities can help in reducing stress levels and promote overall well-being.

It is important to not get stressed all the time. It may weaken you immune system, so follow these tips to effectively help in managing stress and support a healthy immune system.

Natalia Ningthoujam

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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