Stress and immune system are extremely important to the health of every individual. It's no secret that stress can be harmful to your health. But did you know it could also prevent you from fighting off an infection?

A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that people under chronic stress had lower levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, or IgA, which is the "first line of defence" in your immune system against viruses and bacteria.

The researchers said this was because cortisol—a hormone released during high stress—suppresses IgA production.

In this article, I'll share how stress can affect your immune system in many different ways, including making you more susceptible to colds and infections.

The body's reaction to stress

Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline). These stress hormones activate the fight-or-flight response, which prepares you to confront or avoid your stressors—and ultimately survive them.

The problem is that stress can be harmful even without a physical threat. Stressful situations include anything from meeting deadlines at work to getting stuck in a traffic jam.

In these situations, your body reacts the same way it would to a physical threat —even though you're just sitting in gridlock with no immediate danger. Stress hormones continue to circulate in the body even after the stressful situation is over.

High levels of these stress hormones can weaken your immune system and increase your risk for serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. 

In addition to suppressing IgA production, cortisol can damage cells that protect your body against infection. It can also cause other stress hormones to "get out of whack," making it harder for them to regulate the immune system.


This is how the immune system is compromised by stress:

The immune system can be compromised in three ways.

1. Stress reduces the body's ability to produce antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that combat infection, and their production is regulated by a class of cells called B-cells.

Stress hormones damage these cells while increasing inflammation —a process that impairs the immune system and makes it harder for B-cells to do their job and produce antibodies. This can lead to problems like frequent colds and other infections.

2. Stress causes imbalances in the body's levels of cytokines, which are chemicals that increase inflammation in your body. This can cause you to experience more frequent or intense allergic reactions.

Stress also inhibits T-cells— another type of white blood cell—from doing their job to fight off infection by eliminating bacteria, viruses, and other harmful organisms from the body. Stress also reduces the effectiveness of T-cells by impeding their ability to attach themselves to cells that need protection from infection.

3. Stress can suppress your immune system for a short time after a stressful situation has passed. This is because stress causes a drop in IgA levels.

Stress hormones, like cortisol and epinephrine, can stay at high levels for a while after a stressful event has ended. This means your immune system can be compromised even days after the stress-inducing situation is over.

Stressful situations—no matter how small—can affect your body in a big way. The real issue is stress itself isn't the real problem. The real issue is how you cope with stress—and which of your habits put you at risk for chronic, long-term health problems like depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Stress can affect your body in multiple ways; it's essential to learn how to deal with stress in healthy ways.


Giving your immunity some TLC

Giving your immunity some tender loving care (TLC) is the best thing you can do to keep it strong and healthy. There are many things that you can do, such as:

  • Reduce the amount of stress in your life by finding ways to manage those sources of stress. Overwhelming demands at work or home and lack of opportunity for relaxation and recreation all lead to stress.
  • Pursue mental, physical and spiritual activities that give you a positive flow of energy. These could include taking walks in the park, listening to soothing music, getting together with supportive family or friends, doing yoga, meditation or anything else which soothes your mind and makes you feel better about yourself.
  • Take good care of your body by eating nutritious foods and drinking enough water.
  • Maintain healthy relationships with people who support you but not too emotionally draining due to their problems or relying on you for emotional support.
  • Think positive thoughts; visualise yourself in a relaxing situation; laugh at the little things instead of worrying about them.
  • Spend time in the sunshine, gardens or parks. This will help boost your vitamin D levels and give you a sense of well-being.

It's important to note that excessive drug and alcohol use can also weaken immunity by increasing stress levels—so these destructive coping mechanisms must also be addressed if you want your immune system to be its best.

If you're under constant pressure, you risk damaging your heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive system. You're also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or develop other addictions that can harm your health.

Your immune system protects you from attacks by harmful micro-organisms like viruses, bacteria and fungi. When it's constantly weakened by stress, you're more likely to become ill.   


More Resources

5-Day Habit Switch for Stress Relief

5 Ways You Can Prioritise Your Time To Reduce Stress

10 Ways to Stay Calm Under Pressure

How To Deal With Stress In 12 Practical Ways As A Boss Lady


Addressing the stress in your life

If you are feeling stressed out, there are some things you can do to help. I'll give you tips on addressing the stress in your life with this acronym - ADULT.

ADULT stands for:

A - Avoid Stressful Situations:

Stress often comes from certain people or places. When you feel stressed, try your best to avoid those situations until you figure out how to deal with them rationally.


D - Develop a Stress Management Plan:

Create a stress management plan that includes healthy ways to handle stress, such as exercising, meditating, or spending time with friends.

You can also try reducing your caffeine intake and increasing your water intake to stay hydrated. Stress management is an important part of keeping yourself healthy.


U - Understand Stress: Stress is a normal part of life.

Try not to be too hard on yourself when things get stressful. Stress is a part of life and something we all have to deal with at one point or another. Stress management techniques can help us manage stress and stay healthy.

Stress management techniques can be a great way to address your stress. Some things you could try are journaling, going for a walk, doing yoga, or talking about what's bothering you with someone close to you. Even just using a few of these strategies can help you feel better.


L - Listen to Your Body:

Stress can often affect your body in many different ways, causing you to become more negative and less interested in things around you. When you feel stressed, take a minute to think about how your body feels. Do you have an upset stomach?

Is your heart racing? Are you having trouble breathing normally? These are just a few ways stress can affect your body. Taking the time to understand how your body responds to stress can help you separate normal feelings of stress from dangerous symptoms that need to be addressed.


T - Talk to Someone:

Stress management isn't just about doing things on your own. Talking to someone else can help. Parents, friends, and therapists are all great ways of starting the conversation with someone supportive and understanding.

This can be especially helpful when you are stressed out about something that is happening in your life.

stress and immune system

Final thoughts Stress and Immunity

In today's world, it is almost impossible to avoid stress. As we go about our daily lives and work and spend time with family and friends, stress can build up and start taking its toll on us.

Knowing how to manage your stress levels is vital for keeping yourself healthy. Spend some time thinking about what stresses you out the most and what has helped in the past. Maybe it's spending time with friends, journaling, or taking a bath.

Whatever works for you is great! Exercise is another way to manage stress and can be especially helpful when we feel like we have no other outlet.

If you feel overwhelmed by your stress levels, find someone you trust and talk to them about your feelings. Whether you need a hug or a few minutes to vent, it's always helpful to have someone there for you. Remember, the more time you spend worrying, the less time you have available for a living!

So remember - ADULT = Avoid Stressful Situations, Develop a Stress Management Plan, Understand Stress, Listen to Your Body, and Talk to Someone. Thank you for reading! Remember that feedbacks are welcomed on these articles. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let me know by leaving a comment below.


More Resources

Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System

Stress Weakens the Immune System


About the Author Funmi

Funmi is a Certified Functional Health Coach. She is passionate about helping female entrepreneurs transform from Stress and burnout so they can begin to thrive in their body and, by extension, their businesses. 

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