How Stress Affects Your Immune System
Stress is a killer. We hear this all of the time and we know it to be true, yet we endure stress every day. It is a simple reality we will face stress and have to deal with it. Perhaps it is in how we deal with stress, which makes it affect our bodies so violently. With this in mind, consider how stress may affect your immune system and what you can do about it. There are many ways to control stress in a healthy manner.
What we need to realize first and foremost is the fact of stress as poison. We naturally have stress responses in our bodies. This does not, by any means, indicate that we need to react to these responses as we are conditioned to.
For example, it is normal to experience a release of adrenaline or epinephrine when a stressful situation arises. The purpose of this is to increase circulation and oxygen uptake as well as awareness so you can survive being chased by a giant bear. The problem is it is not a giant bear we are dealing with but a test we are about to take or a presentation we have to make in front of people. This is all due to a hormone/neurotransmitter.
It only lasts 20 minutes but it seems like an eternity. We have to adapt our intelligence to recognize this particular stress reaction as a non-bear attack experience. It is just a presentation and you have stage fright. Breathe. It will pass. However, if you freak out, you release hormones, which dampen the immune system significantly.
Cortisol Is the Killer
When you do not have effective tactics to deal with stress in a healthy manner, there are additional reactions the body takes. Mainly, your body releases cortisol. This is an adrenal hormone which only comes into the fight or flight response at the later stages. This is when you have allowed stress to accumulate.
Cortisol directly inhibits immune activity. It is supposed to allow your body to fast, but what happens to us in the modern life is different. We are not fasting or trying to survive climactic conditions. Cortisol is meant to help us heal and deal with extreme circumstances. Instead, what we get is increased fat storage and drastically lowered immunity.
Herbal remedies abound to help us quell the cortisol, but the real answer comes with having a healthy response to stress.
What Is a Healthy Stress Response?
This is where the counselors and the doctors can come into play and help you out. The fight or flight response, that burst of epinephrine or adrenaline as we know it, is standard. We can’t change this much. We can change how we react to it so it doesn’t push us to severe stress and immune suppression. This is called a conditioned response. We have learned to react in a manner, which escalates our body’s stress response to a pinnacle, and this is not good. Interestingly, tobacco counteracts the cortisol response and this is probably why nicotine addiction is rampant. This is not a healthy response.
Work with a therapist to condition yourself to respond to stressful situations in an appropriate manner. This is also called “self-soothing.” You literally need to create a new physical response to stress. This takes some work, but it is achievable and your immune system will function better as a result.
Keep in mind you are not going for stress-free living. This is almost impossible. We are human and we experience stress. Meditation practice is a powerful cure and so is guided counseling. Both in tandem will give you leaps and bounds of improved immunity and make you happier overall.