Stress is the body and mind’s response to event or situation that challenges us. It provides the body with a burst of energy in the form of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” response that helps us survive.
This survival mechanism hails back to the times of hunting for food and running away from predators.
Adrenaline provides your body with the energy needed to run away from the lion. The problem is that we shouldn’t be “running away from a lion” all the time.
In the modern world, many people are chronically stressed, which can be detrimental to mental and physical health. When you activate your “fight or flight” response, all other bodily process that aren’t needed to help us “fight or run away” are temporarily shut down – digestion, sex drive and our immune system, included.
Stress hormones are designed to provide short, intense chemical reactions in the body. Sending your heart into overdrive to pump out blood two or three times faster than normal is essential to save your life in a short instance, but over a long period of time, it can result in an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and digestive problems.
Stress and the Immune System
As previously mentioned, stress causes your immune system to temporarily shut down as you “run away” or “fight” your danger.
If you are chronically stressed, then your immune system is not going to function correctly.
Furthermore, stress can lead to a lack of sleep, which also leads to a weakened immune system. This can then create a vicious cycle of even more stress from sleep deprivation, which can leave your immune system vulnerable and open to attack.
Your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against invading bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Your organs, tissues, cells and cell products that all work together to fight harmful substances and protect you from getting sick.
Stress can affect your immune system in two ways:
- By creating chronic inflammation that harms tissues
- By suppressing immune cells needed to fight infection
You need to avoid burning out and damaging your immune system so much that it triggers excessive inflammation. Inflammation has been implicated in many medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
How to Manage Stress and Protect Your Immune System
Some stresses are unavoidable and even necessary. The key is to strike a balance between stress and restoration. Studying for an exam or working overtime to get a promotion are important, but this means you need to also prioritize extra recover in the form of sleep, self-care, and meditation.
There are many ways to reduce stress effectively, from yoga to breath work, tai chi to a warm, relaxing bath, to spending quality time with friends and family.
We’re supposed to use our diaphragm every time we breathe, but few of us do. Deep breathing exercises can help you to do that.
Using our diaphragm to breathe not only allows full oxygen exchange in the lungs, it pulls the brakes on the ‘fight or flight’ response so you can return to ‘rest and digest’ mode. Taking time to focus on breathing from your diaphragm for just 20 minutes a day helps to enhance your immune system.
Meditation reduces your cortisol levels and reduces inflammation. Research also shows it helps prevent the breakdown of your chromosomes that leads to cancer and premature aging.
Practicing yoga also lowers stress hormone levels and calms your nervous system to reduce inflammation. Inverted poses in yoga help circulate fluid through your lymphatic system, filtering out toxins.
A regular exercise routine is a great way to get your stress levels back in check. You will be stressing your body during exercise, but the long-term benefits include improved ability to cope with stress, a stronger immune system, and hormonal balance.
Remove the Toxic Thoughts and People from Your Life
Not all stresses are avoidable, but for the ones we can control we should. Social stresses, like dating, marriage, friendships, and peer pressure can weigh us down. Removing the toxic people and negative thoughts from your life are vital for optimal health.
Less Stress Means Less Illness
Many people find that chronic stress is the one thing that stands between them and optimal health. While the stress response often can’t be avoided: it’s an evolutionary mechanism that we simply have to manage.
Instead of allowing it to wreak havoc on your body and deplete your immune system, you can take steps to minimize the time your body spends in ‘fight or flight’ mode. And while you’re at it, give your immune system a helping hand with nutrition, exercise, and sleep!
If you have been overworking, it’s time to make some new appointments on your calendar with yourself in order to reduce stress, add exercise and sleep to your daily routine, and care better for yourself even as you boost your immune system.