Stress and its Effects On Your Immune System
Stress has been part of human life forever, it is nothing new. We have been fighting stress and its causes for our entire existence. Natural stressors, ones that we would have experienced as we evolved, are very acute, meaning the stress occurs and then shortly after it ends. Think being chased by a bear, the bear chases you and you either escape or don’t and the stress is done. It is not something that would have lasted for hours or days.
Today we have many different kinds of stressors that occur in our lives and they either last for longer periods of time or happen sequentially one after the other for days on end. We have all had a super stressful day at work where we are trying to meet a deadline, or some unforeseen business critical issue comes up, and the entire day is one giant stress ball. Sometimes that is just a single day, and that is fine, but if it happens day after day for weeks and weeks it can be an issue.
Maybe it is not one single issue causing us chronic stress instead, the cause is packed days which consist of hard workouts, rushing the kids around from school to games to practice to friends house, stress from work, and don’t forget the “honey to do” list waiting for you at home. Some of us are jumping from one thing to the next day after day after day, and never taking a break.
What happens when we experience these types of stress, acute and chronic? How does it effect us?
A stress response elicits various processes in the body, for example the release of hormones that will produce adrenaline, preparing you to either fight or flee from the stress. The other thing the body does is activate the immune system (1). Why? If, for example, you got a cut exposing you to a greater risk for infection, the immune system wants to be ready to fight it off.
If we have chronic stress, these physiological processes are constantly being activated. When the immune system is chronically activated, the mobilization of immune cells becomes far less efficient (1). When our immune cells cannot get to where they are needed, then you are more likely to get sick
Today, in particular in March-April 2020, we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress. I know my stress level has been heightened more than normal. With the compounding fact that the reason for the stress is a novel virus, it is a double whammy, the virus is causing us chronic stress, which then down regulates our immune system, making us more susceptible to contracting the virus ☹️
Now more than ever we need to be utilizing stress management techniques to stop the chronic stress for a while. Personally I love walks, meditation, journaling, or just keeping busy with hobbies that I enjoy. Something else that helps decrease the stress I experience is to limit my time watching the news, especially on the weekend, it really helps me relax more. There are many activities you can do to relive stress. In fact Chris Kresser has put together a great list of resources around managing your stress. I suggest you check those out if you are looking for ways to manage the stress you are experiencing.
If you need help or have questions, just hit reply to this email and let me know!
(1) Dhabhar, F. S. (2014). Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic Research, 58(2-3), 193–210. doi:10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0