Stress and the Immune System

April 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm Leave a comment

Stress And Your Immune System

An executive comes down with the flu the night before an important presentation. A couple takes off for a much-needed vacation–and both get sick. A person in the throes of divorce suffers one chronic infection after another. Coincidence? Increasingly, researchers think not.

Recognizing Stress

Stress exists in many forms. Any situation that you’re not in control of is stressful, as is one that makes demands that you feel you can’t meet. Change, even positive change such as a new job or the birth of a child, is stressful. That’s why no one can completely escape stressful events. When you let stress get under your skin, your body responds with a flood of hormones that prepare you for extreme action — the “fight or flight” response.

The Body’s Response

Research has identified the stress response as a factor in many stress-related illnesses, such as high blood pressure and digestive problems. Now, there’s evidence that stress can weaken the immune system. The hormones cortisone and adrenaline released in response to stress are such potent suppressers of the immune system that they’re sometimes prescribed for disorders in which the immune system is overactive — such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Stress Or Lifestyle?

Studies of large groups of people and their patterns of illness and stress showed a connection — the more stress, the more illness. And, animal studies show that cells of the immune system decline when the animal is under stress. If stress increases your chance of illness, from the common cold to cancer, does that prove that stress affects the immune system? Probably, but not for sure. You see, people under stress often behave in ways that are, in themselves, harmful to the immune system: They sleep less, exercise less, eat poorly, smoke, drink, and use drugs more than people who are less stressed.

What You Can Do

Whatever the cause of stress-related illness, one thing is sure: You can boost your health by dealing with stress head-on. This means taking a good look at your life and eliminating those activities that are stressful and not really necessary. Of course, no one can eliminate all stress — even boredom is stressful — but you can reduce your body’s response to stress by learning some stress-management techniques: meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization. Get regular exercise and sleep, which are both healthful and stress-reducing, and avoid junk food. Cut back on those approaches that don’t work—such as alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes.

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Entry filed under: Health Coaching.

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