Everybody experiences stress from time to time. It’s just a part of life. For some, it can be temporary, like feeling stressed before a final exam. For others, it can be ongoing, like the stress one feels caring for an ailing loved one. Whatever the case, chronic stress can take a toll on your mind and body. It can also weaken your immune system.
How Does Stress Weaken the Immune System?
Stress creates a hormone called cortisol which, in short spurts, can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation. But over time, your body gets used to having too much cortisol in your blood, which paves the way for more inflammation and can suppress your immune system’s ability to fight off invaders.
If you don’t manage your stress levels, chronic inflammation can lead to the development and progression of many diseases of the immune system, including:
Prolonged stress can also lead to cardiovascular problems, including a fast heart rate and heart disease, as well as gastric ulcers. You’ll also be at risk for type 2 diabetes, various cancers, and mental decline.
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Signs of a Weakened Immune System Due to Stress
Some people who are stressed resort to unhealthy habits as a way of coping, including smoking, drinking, and even drug use. Other signs of a weakened immune system include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Catching colds easily
- Frequent cold sores
- Suffering from a chronic condition
Tips for Managing the Negative Impact of Stress on the Immune System
Taking steps to reduce your stress not only gives your mind a break but can also help relieve the pressure on your immune system. The following activities can help you reduce short-term and long-term stress:
- Yoga. Practicing yoga lowers stress hormone levels and calms your nervous system to reduce inflammation. The deep breathing involved in yoga helps boost your resistance to infection. Inverted positions in yoga also helps circulate fluid through your lymphatic system, which filters out toxins.
- Meditation. Also called mindfulness, meditation helps reduce your cortisol levels and reduces inflammation. Research shows that meditating 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times a week can help prevent the breakdown of your chromosomes that lead to cancer and premature aging.
- Positive thinking. Evidence shows that people who believe they’re doing better actually do better than those who have the same physical condition but aren’t as positive. Research also shows that negativity, anxiety, and hostility affect the immune system.
- Behavioral modification. Changing how you act can often break habits that trigger stress reactions.
- Seeking social support. According to research, people with strong social support have better overall health and are more resistant to infection and disease.
- Regular exercise. Getting exercise on a regular basis helps reduce cortisol and other stress hormones. It also releases endorphins, which are hormones that help improve mood, sleep, and your ability to combat pain.
- Get enough sleep. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon so you can fall asleep easier at night. Also set a routine that makes getting a good night’s sleep easier, such as avoiding looking at screens while in bed. Getting enough sleep also helps clear your mind and improve your overall wellbeing.
- Spend time with family and friends. Time spent with friends and family can help manage stress and other emotional problems. Studies have shown that women who spend more time with family, friends, and children help release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever.
- Write it down. Recording what’s stressing you out by writing it down helps you assess the factors that bring stress to your life, which can help you handle it better. Also write down what you’re thankful for, because it helps instill gratitude and enables you to focus on the positive things in your life.
Learn More About the Impact of Stress on the Immune System from Baptist Health
If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of a weakened immune system due to stress, contact your nearest Baptist Health location today.