What Are The Effects Of Stress On The Body? Immune System is Compromised
Whether you feel tired, you have a headache, you can not sleep, you feel sick, you are over-eating, you feel weak or you are more impatient than usual, the explanation that always seems to be appropriate is “I am just stressed”. In reality, you are right for thinking and believing that stress is causing these symptoms, but do you understand why and how this is true? Do you understand the seriousness of stress on the body and what are the effects of stress on the body?
A review of several studies concluded that:
Stress is the common risk factor of 75%–90% diseases, including the diseases which cause the foremost morbidity and mortality. (1)
What I want us to gain from this article is that stress is more than a word we throw around to minimize our symptoms and to justify them as “normal”. Let us face it, our culture today is face-paced and filled with stress, so we have just accepted that this is the norm. But there are ways to decrease the effects of stress on the immune system.
The idea that stress plays a huge role in the development of short-term and long-term physical and psychiatric is more than just an idea. The effects are caused by the network of pathways between the central nervous system (CNS) , the endocrine system and the immune system.
Types of Stress
ACUTE: short-term stress which is typically defined as the fight-flight response by the body, to adapt quickly to stress in the environment.
This is a SURVIVAL response and understanding how a response adapted to a short term stress can not adapt to long term or chronic stress is key.
CHRONIC: is an accumulation of stress over a long period. The stress is made up of many single events one after another or the severity and duration of one traumatic event.
Sources of Stress
This is stressed caused by your perception on a situation and/or your emotions state.
This is very important to understand because even though there is no physical stressor in the environment or the physical stressor has been removed, you can continue to cause a release in the stress hormone by your MIND-SET and THINKING.
An example of this is when you constantly worry, fear, or have regrets and think of what you “could have done”,
Stressors that come from your surroundings such as from family, friends, work and school. The stressor could be temporary (acute) such as taking an exam or passing an interview.
Effects Of Stress On the Immune System
The Immune System & Its Function
The immune system protects you by performing each of these immune responses:
- Looking for foreign substances in the body;
- Looking for unhealthy cells in the body;
- Sending messages to other organs and cells to warn them of an attack on the body;
- Attack micro-organisms that will lead to an infection.
This diagram gives a good summary of the organs that make up the immune system. Along with these organs ANTIBODIES and LYMPHOCYTES are necessary to adequately perform these immune responses to protect your body from illness.
The Adrenal System & Cortisol
I know that most people have the idea that the hormone cortisol is bad for you because it is the stress hormone. But in fact, it is good for the body in the normal amounts and we NEED it for survival.
Anything in excess is toxic to the body and that is how cortisol got it’s bad rap, because today, we have more stress than ever before, and so we reap only the negative effects of cortisol.
Cortisol is actually an adaptive hormone that functions to help you during periods of acute stress known as the flight, fight or freeze response.
Cortisol shuts down the non-essential functions of the body, like digestion and immune response, so you have enough energy to deal with the situation at hand. It decreases the level of lymphocytes which protect us from illness.
Cortisol also assists in these stressful situations by maximizing your energy output to your muscles by increasing your blood sugar level and narrowing your arteries. End result is blood pumping faster to react to the threat.
I think without going any further, isn’t it clear to see that the effects of cortisol LONG-TERM would be extremely detrimental and cause you to be susceptible to illness?
What Is Inflammation Of The Immune System?
Role of Inflammatory Cytokynes
These are proteins released from the central nervous system and the immune system depends largely on these to protect the body because these cytokines activate lymphocytes to do their job – protect you from foreign physcial and psychological stress.
- Pro-Inflammatory cytokines are released when there is a threat to initiate the body to attack the foreign invader. This threat does not have to be a physical one (like cancer), but also STRESS.
With acute stress, it has been shown that this immune system response is temporary and is in fact, an adaptive and flexible response that the body uses for self-preservation. In other words the PRO-INFLAMMATORY response is necessary for survival and one the cytokines and lymphcytes do their job, they leave. (2)
Chronic stress however, causes the same pro-inflammatory response to the immune system but because of the prolonged state of the stress, it does not have the opportunity to regulate and the levels will continue to increase, eventually leading to damage to the body. (2)
Age and Disease
It has been shown in many studies that age and disease further impairs the immune system from being able to adapt to stress.
People with autoimmune disorders need to be even more aware that stress can have a huge impact on their well-being because their immune system interprets self-tissue, self-organs and self-cells as invaders. (2)(3)
Inflammatory Induced Diseases
There are many diseases that are caused and/or worsened, by the chronic response to stress on the body. Some of them are:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – which has been shown to lead to other health issues like heart attacks, stroke and cancer by a study called “co-morbidity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis – Inflammation Matters”. (4)
- Gastrointestinal Diseases – for example Crohn’s disease, or Celiac Disease because the inflammation affects the body’s normal capacity to digest food, absorb nutrients and get rid of toxic waste. (5)
- Depression, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, fatty liver disease and cardio vascular diseases.(1)
Management of Stress
I came across this quote, written by Robert Sapolsky, and American neuroendocrinologist. This was written over 20 years, in 1998 and still reflects true today, probably even more so in today’s society:
“Stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we so often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions.”.
- Yoga and/or meditation
- Breathing exercises
- Talking a walk outdoors
- Aerobic Exercise
- Chatting with friends & Socializing
- Watch a movie
- Listen to music
Your approach would probably be an integrated one, with of a few stress management activities to really help yourself deal with stress because it is crucial to prevent or minimize the adverse effects that chronic stress can have to the immune system.
Of course, the three basics lifestyle elements that will always be the FOUNDATION for our health are regular exercise, good nutrition and quality sleep.
We Are All Different
You need to have an approach that works for you. We can not eliminate stress from our lives; that is impossible. Our perspective plays a HUGE role on how stresses affect you and the impact it will have on your immune system response. Having a positive mindset and not worrying incisively can make a huge impact.
I will be honest with you ladies. I cause stress to myself, by constantly thinking about “what next”, “what will I get done tomorrow” etc. So for me, internally created stress is my big issue. When I start to get into that pattern of thinking, some things I do are:
- Make lists and set goals for by week.
- I take a deep breath and remind myself to “be in the moment“. These thoughts come back but I repeat this strategy until these intruding thoughts become less frequent.
Personally, I believe that any action that disconnects you from “reality” so to say is typically a good strategy.
For me, I totally disconnect from any worry by watching a movie before sleep. Once I am done, I do NOT go back to look at my phone or emails etc. I go straight to bed, feeling like I forgot about by present day and the tasks I want to complete for tomorrow. I fall asleep really quickly and stay in a deep sleep.
Waking up feeling refreshed and well-rested starts the day off right not only because I am more productive, but I am less inpatient and in a happier mood.
What stressors really affect you? Are they internal or external? What are the strategies have you have tried that worked for you? Do you feel you should make some changes?
Let me know what you think and send me a comment ladies!
Until NEXT TIME:)