Stressed Out! How Stress Impacts the Immune System


Close up of woman biting her lip

“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” – Dr. Hans Selye

The word ‘stress’ is used in so many different contexts in our modern society that it has become ambiguous. Here is a biological definition of stress as described by the famous endocrinologist, Hans Selye: “Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it”. His definition captures the diversity of stress that we experience, while recognizing that stress exists (or doesn’t) according to the individual’s perception.

So go through one typical day and think about the demands you have placed on your body…maybe you will come up with a list like this:

  • Woke up, unrefreshed – lack of sleep
  • Drank 2 cups of coffee to wake up – stimulant use
  • Got ready for work using personal care products – if products were unsafe, overwhelmed the liver with toxins to detoxify
  • Rushed out the door, late for work, no time for breakfast – no food intake, mental stress of being late

And that’s all before noon!

For some, this is an occasional thing and for others, this may be a daily routine. The point is, we are asking our body to function normally without the resources it needs to do run regular operations smoothly.  If this is rare, it’s not likely to have a major long-term impact, however, if this is frequent and/or your resources are already depleted, then these effects can really add up.

Here are some health problems that can be stress-related:

  • Constipation, diarrhea
  • Stomach ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Auto-immune conditions
  • Headaches
  • Tense, sore muscles

Just to name a few…

Make no mistake – stress impacts every level of your well-being and every system in your body, including your immune system. Stress releases corticosteroid hormones that suppress immune function – this is an important short-term adaptive response in the body, but with chronic, repetitive stress, it interferes with the normal, healthy immune response. When the immune system is hampered, then disease (acute and chronic) can develop as the normal security measures that are in place are unable to work at full capacity.

There is plenty you can do to stay more balanced, reduce stress and alleviate the impact of stress on your health.  This is highly variable for each person. However, here are a few general tips to lower stress levels and improve immune health:

  1. Develop a positive mental outlook
  2. Relax while eating and chew your food properly
  3. Drink adequate, clean water throughout the day (uncaffeinated herbal tea counts as water!)
  4. Exercise daily to help release tension
  5. Get periods of deep rest during your day, including restful sleep every night

Inner Inquiry

Set yourself up for success with honest answers to these simple questions:

  • What demands do I put on my body each day?
  • What changes can I make in my daily routine to stay more balanced?
  • Out of the list of tips, what is the main one I need to focus on achieving for stress reduction?
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