Are you constantly struck down by colds, flu and other infections – no matter how well you look after yourself?

If yes, then perhaps your stress levels are to blame.

Stress is the body’s reaction to a physical, mental or emotional strain or tension. It is brought upon by physiological, psychological and environmental events that the body perceives as challenging, threatening or demanding. These events are called stressors.

When stressors are present, your body’s “fight-or-flight” reaction gets turned on. Your brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system resulting in an onslaught of stress hormones being pumped around the body. While these hormones are useful in acute situations, their ability to interfere with the immune system can result in inflammation, reduced white blood cells, and a higher susceptibility to infection and tissue damage.

What are the effects of chronic stress on the immune system?

The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream.  They move in and out of tissues and organs, defending the body against foreign bodies (antigens), such as bacteria, viruses, and cancerous cells.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors.

Unhealthy ways of coping with stress

These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much
  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Procrastinating
  • Sleeping too much
  • Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
  • Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
  • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)

Managing and coping with stress more successfully

It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about your stress level. Your family and career responsibilities are always demanding, the bills aren’t going to stop coming, and there are never enough hours in the day for all your errands. But you have a lot more control than you might think.

Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. There are a few ways that may help you reduce stress more successfully:

  • Exercise is a simple and effective way to reduce stress. It benefits your adrenal glands, and stress hormones will divert to helping you move your body instead of destroying your tissues.
  • Embrace the power of positive thinking. Practicing daily affirmations and getting to the root of the problem with a professional might be what you need to help banish some of the stress in your life.
  • Meditation and deep breathing exercises may help calm the body by reducing the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Practice this in times of stress or, better, on a daily basis.
  • Probiotics may help increase the immune function in your gut, which is the center of your immune system. Taking measures to eat healthier is also a great way to boost the health of your immune function.
The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.
Russ Skinner, MD

Russ Skinner, MD

Dr. Russell Skinner is a board-certified medical doctor, the founder of Family Health and Wellness of Plano, and the Chief Medical Officer of My Wellbeing Compass. He is committed to maximizing the health and wellness of his patients by preventing disease, functionally treating illness, and promoting a healthy state of mind. read more...