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Stress and Your Immune System

Posted on November 23 2020

We’ve all heard that stress isn’t all bad – sometimes it can actually be a good thing and give us the motivation to get going on something we’ve been putting off.  Or to work harder at something important to us.  And of course, there are the positive stressors like planning an event, or a trip – though admittedly there are much less of those during our current situation.

But chronic stress is never good for us. And right now, we are all living under a heavy blanket of chronic stress – heavier than usual, and completely unrelenting. Many of us experience this in waves; we go a few days without really acknowledging in, busy in our “new normal” routines, and then it suddenly hits us like a ton of bricks all over again.  And others just feel an underlying sense of fear or anxiousness most of the time.

And on some level, we know that stress can impact our immune system; when we are really stressed for a long period of time, we tend to get run down and ill. 

How Stress Weakens Immunity

The immune system is made up of billions of cells that travel through our bodies.  They move in and out of tissues and organs, defending the body against foreign attackers, such as bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells. White blood cells are the body’s main immune cells, and they are divided into two types: lymphocytes and phagocytes. Lymphocytes will fight viruses and bacteria by releasing antibodies into the fluids surrounding cells, and also locking onto infected cells and destroying them.

When our bodies are under stress, this response is weakened, leaving us more vulnerable. When it is a case of short-term stress, like a specific situation that only lasts a few hours, we can bounce back. But when the stress is chronic and long-lasting our immune system gets compromised.

 This occurs in a few ways:

  1. Cortisol (the stress hormone) suppresses and reduces lymphocyte activity, so you don’t have as immune cells defending you.
  2. Stress impedes digestion - and with over 80% of our immune cells residing in the intestine, it makes sense that digestive function is impacted, leading to increased ulcers and reduced nutrient absorption.
  3. Stress increases inflammation. And inflammation is the root of many diseases. When inflammation becomes chronically elevated we are not only more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, but also to other diseases such as arthritis, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), fibromyalgia and heart disease.
  4. Sleep disruption. When we are stressed, many of us find it difficult to get the restorative sleep we need – and that just makes things worse.  Sleep deprivation will also reduce lymphocytes in much the same way that stress does.  So, if you are under chronic stress, and not sleeping because of it, your immune system is taking a double hit and has less immune cells available to defend you..

Not to be bleak, but given the thing that is really driving a lot of our stress right now is a super virus, it’s even more important to keep our immune systems functioning well.  And a huge part of that is about managing our stress levels.

5 Tips to Keep Stress in Check

  1. Make sleep a top priority. 
  2. Eat a balanced diet with lots of plants.
  3. Meditate daily (if you can’t get into meditating, then find some quiet time daily to journal or read or walk in nature, or just take 15 very deep breaths, or a hot bath)
  4. Do yoga, go for a run or power walk, or do an online workout.  But move your body and get a little winded and sweaty.
  5. Practice compassion – for yourself and your loved ones. And connect with humans you love, safely.

If you are interested in further supporting your adrenals and managing stress symptoms with a natural health supplement, check out Daytime Zen.   Contains 4 natural and proven ingredients to help you feel calm, yet alert, and reduce feelings of stress and feeling overwhelmed, while also fighting symptoms of stress-related fatigue.  

And if you are really struggling with sleep, check out our blog on Sleep Tips.

 

Further Reading:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-deprivation-effect-immune-system-mirrors-physical-stress

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/ 

https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html#:~:text=When%20we're%20stressed%2C%20the,lowers%20the%20number%20of%20lymphocytes).

 

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