We live in a stressful world, and our modern, rushed lifestyles have allowed stress to filter into almost every aspect of our lives. It is impossible to avoid all the stresses that come your way, but the solution lies in the way you react to it.
Scientists have long been aware of the connection between stress and the immune system, and how it can be compromised by stress. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy manner could help to minimise the negative impact it has on your immune system efficiency.
How stress weakens the immune system
The immune system is the body’s form of defence, which is made up a myriad of cells, tissues and organs, which work together to fight toxins and other foreign substances which threaten to do harm to the body. When you are stressed the immune system’s ability to defend the body is reduced, and we become susceptible to infections. Studies have shown that the immune system of highly-stressed people have sluggish responses to health challenges. The raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol, over-produced by chronic stress, can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections. While cortisol does its job, the immune system receives signals to slow down, and if stress is not eased and cortisol stays high, the immune system may remain in low gear. The under-performing immune system can then result in serious inflammatory conditions, which is the cause of many ailments. The immunity of those who would normally have a healthy immune system, is subsequently lowered.
Chronic stress also leads to a lower amount of a certain protein being produced, which is instrumental in the signaling for “reinforcements” between immune cells. Without this communication, the body is in danger of contracting acute illnesses, and may have to endure extended recovery times.
Stress can have an indirect effect on the immune system if a person uses unhealthy coping strategies like binge-eating of unhealthy foods, and smoking or drinking much more than usual.
The bottom line is that if you have constant, chronic stress which is not effectively handled, you lay yourself open to various illnesses which can have a devastating effect on your health.
Some good news
The good news is that a little stress is not a bad thing, as it keeps you alert to react to sudden, unexpected stressful situations. Short-term suppression of the immune system will not put you into danger, it is only when it is chronic that you will be prone to infection and disease.
Brief, curtailed bouts of stress due to unforeseen events or circumstances in your life will simply keep you on your toes to respond quickly to the situation, and will have no negative effect whatsoever on your immune system.
Five steps you can take to help reduce stress
- Eat a good nourishing breakfast each day that includes minerals like calcium and potassium which have a calming effect on the body.
- Follow a healthy diet as much as possible. Stay away from sugars and fats.
- Avoid excessive caffeine, which may give you a short boost, but could leave you feeling jittery and anxious as you wind down.
- It is very important to get enough sleep. Sleep pattern disturbances, or even mild insomnia, will be perceived by the body as major stress. The cortisol will rise to new heights, and immunity will fall to new lows.
- Interact socially often, and talk to family and friends if you feel the need to unburden or get some advice.
The efficiency of your stress-coping skills are the key to a vital, fully-functioning immune system.
Stress is no laughing matter, as it plays a part in many ailments and diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and chronic digestive problems, to name but a few.
Surveys conducted worldwide have revealed some disturbing facts:
- In the US, 75% of adults reported experiencing high to moderate stress in the past month, and more than half felt their stress increased over the past year.
- 91% of Australians presently feel stress in at least one part of their lives, while Australian employers report absenteeism due to stress costs the economy about $14.2 billion annually.
- 3.7 million working days are lost annually in the UK, thanks to stress related issues, at a cost of about 28.3 billion British pounds.
A serious situation indeed!
But you do not have to be a statistic of poor health because of stress. If you cannot handle it on your own, get assistance from someone who has the expertise to help you. Do what is best for your health.
Be a healthy you!
Dawn Swinley is a nutritional therapist, dedicated to help her clients achieve their goals by making simple changes that get results. You can find more about Dawn at www.dawnswinley.com