Stress and the Immune System
Stress and the immune system are closely related.
As colds and flu's make their rounds in schools, offices and homes this year, you may be wondering what you can do to boost your immune system?
One thing that you can do is to reduce your stress!
Chronic stress suppresses your immune system leading to stress related illness.
While the initial fight or flight response can boost your immune system, too much stress for too long can be harmful and lead to stress related illnesses.
Boost your immune system with stress management techniques and healthy lifestyle choices.
Stress and the immune system
The immune system is your body's defense and surveillance system.
The immune system recognizes and protects you from foreign substances such as germs, viruses, cancerous cells, and irritants.
The fight or flight response can boost the immune system for short-term stress.
How Does Stress Affect Health?
How Does Stress Affect Health?Chronic stress weakens the body's defense and makes you more susceptible to stress related illness. Other ways stress affects health is:
When stressed the immune system is suppressed, which makes it more difficult to fight these foreign invaders.
This leaves the body more vulnerable to attack and is one possible link between the stress and cancer connection.
In a study of stress and the immune system, academic pressure and immunological functioning were investigated by Jemmott and colleagues in 1983.
They found that at the end of the academic year - around exam periods which were considered most stressful - the immune response was reduced.
In another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1991), Cohen and colleagues supported the hypothesis that the more stress you are under the greater the likelihood of catching a cold.
Because stress harms your white blood cells it can also take longer for your body to heal itself.
In a study conducted by Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues in 1995, it took 9 days longer for wounds to heal in highly stressed women compared to less stressed women with the same economic status and age.
Although there does not appear to be evidence that stress can cause cancer, there is evidence that when the immune system is suppressed that more cancerous tumors can develop.
Ways that you can boost your immune system
If you are suffering from chronic stress then this type of stress can impair your immune system.
Stress and the immune system are intimately related and it is important to take control of your stress.
Get to the source of your stress. Identifying the causes of stress for you is an important stress management technique.
By keeping a stress diary you can identify the causes of stress for you, the signs of stress and how you react to stress.
Download a stress diary to get objective data that allows you to set stress management goals and strategies to beat stress.
Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques can short circuit the stress response and reduce the emotional and physical effects of stress.
There are a number of relaxation techniques that include:
Adopt an optimistic attitude. People who adopt a pessimistic attitude tend to have poorer skills for coping with stress.
These people also tend to have lower immune functioning (Lin & Peterson, 1990).
This suggests that adopting a positive mental attitude helps combat stress and boost your immune functioning.
Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter provides an opportunity to vent emotions and positively re-interpret the stressor.
For example, people who watched an hour long funny video had a positive effect on immune functioning (Perera et al. 1998).
Laughter therapy provides an opportunity to boost your immune functioning.
Exercise and immune functioning. Exercise relaxes muscles and uses up the accumulated stress products from the fight or flight response.
Exercise reduces stress in a number of ways and can alleviate depression and anxiety.
Exercise also increases immune functioning.
Just a brisk walk can bolster immune defenses.
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