Immunity & Stress
When Sunil, a 40-year old single father, decided to leave his well settled job as an architect in a big firm, to follow his childhood dream of becoming a writer, he did not anticipate the consequences. Initially happy with his decision, the uncertainty of life without a steady job and income began to slowly affect his mental balance. Money worries, along with the fear of failure in his now chosen path, began to keep him awake at nights. This soon began telling on his health. A healthy man with an active social life, he became a loner, lost is appetite and began suffering from nagging health problems. Chronic stress, coupled with lack of sleep and nutrition, was beginning to weaken his immune system.
Immunity is defined as the body’s defense mechanism to keep ourselves safe and protected from the bacteria, germs and viruses which accidently enter our body. A healthy self is dependent on the correct functioning of our immune system.
Whereas, stress is the reaction of the body towards any change that needs to be dealt with. We can experience stress from the environment, our body or thoughts. Our body responds to these reactions with physical, mental and emotional feedbacks. It is normal in everybody’s life. Too much of constant stress has negative effects on our long-term health.
The ability to keep off any sort of ailment depends on various factors, some of which may not be in our control. But stress and the way it affects our immune system can be influenced by us. If we are unable to deal with our stress factors, we tend to lead ourselves to a hormonal battle heading to health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and heart diseases. Many people fail to realize that the immune system is intimately related to our stress levels.
Mood and attitude towards life have a very strong impact on our immune system. When we are happy and positive, the immune system functions efficiently. But when we are unhappy and possess a negative attitude, we tend to invite sickness.
How stress can weaken our immunity?
Stress cannot lead us to catch a cold or flu. It simply weakens the ability of our immune system to fight back the germs affecting our body, making us more vulnerable towards infection. The stress hormone known as corticosteroid suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system by lowering the number of the lymphocytes (white blood cells of the body also known as major type of immune cells. They are formed of bone marrow and are found in the lymph and blood).
Stress induces pressure on circulatory system by increasing the heart rate and raising blood pressure. Hypertension which can take place from both the conditions is one of the biggest risk factors of coronary heart disease (CHD). Stress also takes a part in increasing blood cholesterol level with the action of adrenaline and non adrenaline hormones leading to formation of clots in the blood vessels and arteries. It affects the digestive system as well. During stress the process of digestion gets reserved which may result in formation of ulcers. Adrenaline released during the phase may lead to ulcer formation as well.
Stress may also have an indirect effect on the immune system as during a stressful period one tends to catch up unhealthy strategies like smoking, consuming too much alcohol or caffeine, eating too much processed foods containing a big amount of sugar, not getting enough sleep or giving up on exercise and healthy social activities.
How do we know whether we have low immunity or not?
As mentioned, the immune system comprises of many cells travelling through the bloodstream. They move in and out of the organs or tissues defending the body against foreign invaders known as antigens like bacteria, viruses, germs or even cancerous cells.
Low immunity is described as an underactive or poor immune system unable to sufficiently safeguard one from infections or diseases.
Signs that indicate low immunity are:
- The tendency of catching cold easily or frequently.
- The tendency of suffering from any chronic infection.
- Sore or swollen lymph glands.
Steps to reduce stress and support the immune system
A person’s state of mind, stress level, lifestyle, dietary habits and nutritional status has a huge impact on his/her immune system. Thus, to reduce stress and strengthen immunity, we must focus on the following tips:
- Eat healthy food
- Exercise regularly or engage in some physical activity
- Meditation for positive thinking and peace of mind
- Adopt changes in our behavior while dealing with a person, thing or situation
- Seek social support
- Engage in social activity
- Check lifestyle modification
According to research, stress is responsible for almost 90% of ailments, including heart diseases, stroke as well as cancer by emission of cortisol that reduces the white blood cells and NK cells (special cancer killing cells), leading to development of tumor and its growth. Thus, stress reduction and adoption of a stronger immune system are essential in reducing our vulnerability towards cold, flu and other serious diseases as mentioned.
Reduce and eradicate stress from life by undertaking the necessary means. Seek medical assistance in terms of dealing with chronic stress and severe immunity disorder.