Stress is a pretty standard part of everyday life. From the time you jump out of bed in the morning until the moment you fall exhausted into bed in the evening, it seems like you can’t escape stress. The fast pace of modern life can lead to some pretty severe stress, which in turn can lead to all sorts of health problems.
Nearly EVERY health problems list stress as a risk factor! #stress. Your body suffers under the burden of stress, but it’s your immune system that takes a beating. Read on to find out the effects of stress on the immune system–the results might shock you!
STRESS AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
With stress being a constant in life, it’s important to understand just how much of an effect it can have on your body.The results below may surprise you, but hopefully, you will realize how vital it is for you to keep your stress in check once you see what stress can do to you!
How Your Body Reacts to Stress
- When you encounter something stressful, your hypothalamus (a small portion of your brain located near the base of your skull) reacts. It triggers a sort of alarm system, causing your adrenal glands (located near your kidneys) to flood your body with hormones. These hormones include cortisol and adrenaline.
- Adrenaline is the hormone that prepares for a “fight or flight”. It elevates your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, and gives you a surge of energy. Cortisol, on the other hand, increases the level of glucose in your blood, ensures you have more nutrients available to repair tissue, and enhances your brain’s ability to burn glucose for energy.
- The result is a quick-thinking, quick-acting body that can handle whatever triggered the stress response. However, in the release of these energy-boosting hormones, other bodily functions are suppressed. During these moments of stress, your reproductive, digestive, growth, and immune systems are all compromised.
- Now, what happens when the pressure doesn’t end? This response is triggered when you feel threatened. (such as by a dog or a speeding car), but what if the stress persists? That’s when the problems set in!
How Stress Affects Your Health
Your body is designed to release cortisol and adrenaline when it is afraid, but it can only keep up the pace for so long. After too long under stress, it begins to go haywire. Usually, your hormone levels return to their normal state, but long-term stress can keep that “fight or flight” reaction on AT ALL TIMES!
If you are exposed to stress over the long term, you will find that the constant elevation of adrenaline and cortisol in your body can severely suppress all of the other critical bodily functions. The disruption of your normal inner workings can lead to a wide range of health issues, including, but not limited to:
- Anxiety – Nervous tension, worry and stress all go hand in hand!
- Weight gain/loss — Stress suppresses your digestive system, making it harder for you to absorb the food you eat properly. Long-term stress can lead to weight loss for some, while others suffer from weight gain thanks to emotional eating problems developed as a result of the stress.
- Depression — Your mood is controlled by a delicate balance of hormones and neurochemicals. When there is too much of one hormone (cortisol), the others can be thrown out of whack–leading to the imbalances in the brain responsible for depression.
- Heart disease — Remember how stress elevates your blood pressure? Sustained high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, not the least of which is a heart attack and stroke.
- Digestive problems — With your digestive system suppressed, it should come as no surprise that it’s much harder to break down and absorb food properly. IBS, ulcers, and other digestive problems are often the result of long-term stress!
- Sleep problems — High levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your body can make it very difficult to sleep. The resulting fatigue only makes you feel more stressed–a vicious downward spiral that will make you more tired and stressed!
- Mental impairment — Long term stress can reduce overall brain activity, as the “fight or flight” response activates certain parts of your brain while shutting down others. You may find your memory and concentration impaired thanks to the stress.
These are just the immediate effects of stress, and the truth is that stress can lead to all sorts of severe health problems. The fact that your immune system is compromised means that your body is unable to defend itself, leaving it vulnerable to attacks by pathogens. It’s all but guaranteed that you will end up sick!
How to Deal with Stress
If you want to live a healthy life, you must find a way to deal with stress appropriately. That means managing and reducing it, not merely continuing to work under the burden of stress.
Some ways to deal with the stressors in your life:
- Identify stressors
- Not everything that requires hard work leads to stress. It may be a coworker, boss, or work situation, or it may be something at home. Find what triggers your body’s innate stress response, and try to figure out how you can change your natural reaction to the stressor.
- Laugh more
- Studies have proven that laughter can deal with stress effectively. If you feel yourself coming under the pressure of stress, take a break to laugh! Watch a sitcom, read some jokes, or enjoy a funny YouTube video.
- The more you laugh, the easier it will be to deal with the stress
- Relaxation/meditation techniques
- Meditation- an art that has been around for centuries, and it is one of the most effective ways to deal with stress. Naturally calming your body and clearing your mind can help you to come to terms with all the stress in your life.
- There are dozens of meditation and relaxation techniques to try!
- Create friendships
- Having a friend to talk to in time of stress can help to alleviate the tension and anxiety, and you’ll find that a good friendship is one of the best ways to cope with stress.
- Socializing with others can prevent depression, anxiety, and emotional problems from getting out of control.
- Live a healthy life
- It’s essential for you to eat right, as that will ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs. Exercise is another important way to stay healthy, as it will help to boost your immune system back to full function.
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol (in excess), and try to limit your caffeine intake. All of these things will only make your stress worse!
If you find yourself under a constant load of stress, your immune system is going to take a pounding. Stress and the immune system mix like oil and water, so it’s best to find ways to deal with the stress in your life.
Get rid of stress and keep your body healthy!