We know that stress can affect our mood and productivity. But stress is also closely linked to our health and immunity, and can make us susceptible to a variety of diseases. Wondering how stress can affect the immune system? Keep reading to find out.
How Does Stress Affect the Immune System?
When we undergo stress, our body produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol. In short bursts, cortisol reduces inflammation, and thereby plays a part in boosting immunity. But what is the effect of prolonged stress on the immune system?
Consistent stress over long periods can make your body habituated to having too much cortisol in your blood. This can result in more inflammation and open the door to chronic inflammatory conditions like bowel disease, arthritis, psoriasis and heart disease.
Further, stress is also known to decrease the body’s white blood cells or lymphocytes. A low white blood cell count puts you at an increased risk of infection from various diseases. Does stress affect the immune system in other ways? Yes, prolonged stress can affect our mental well-being and lead to conditions like depression and anxiety, which in turn take a toll on our immunity. In addition, we tend to turn to a number of unhealthy coping mechanisms when faced with stress. Drinking, smoking and unhealthy sleeping patterns are all examples of this, and can chip away at our immunity and overall wellness.
What Can You Do to Manage Stress?
While we cannot always escape stress, we can learn how to take control and effectively manage it. Here are a few tips to help you cope with stress.
1. Eat Healthy - Timely, healthy and balanced meals will help your body run optimally and work as a line of defense against stress. Fruits, nuts and seeds play an important role as antioxidants like Vitamins A, C, and E provide protection that can help reduce free-radical damage. Free-radical formation tends to increases when our bodies are stressed.
2. Avoid Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol - Alcohol in small portions, caffeine and nicotine act as stimulants which increase stress rather than reducing it and should be limited if not avoided altogether.
3. Exercise - Physical activity creates an instant rush of endorphins which elevate mood. And regular exercise helps keep you fit, which in turn helps to keep stress at bay.
4. Sleep Well - A good night’s sleep can help you fight stress. But sometimes, stress can give rise to repetitive thought patterns which cause insomnia. It helps to maintain a rigid sleep schedule - try to go to bed at a fixed time every night even if it takes you a while to fall asleep, and make sure you get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. Try to schedule ‘no screen time’ an hour before going to bed.
5. Meditate and Relax - Taking some time to slow down your thoughts can work wonders when it comes to fighting stress. Yoga is a great way to do this. It’s also important to make time for hobbies, interests and self-care.
6. Protect Your Time - Organise your to-do list in such a way that it prioritizes what is most important to you. Leave space for your family and downtime, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when you feel your time could be better utilised.
7. Talk - Sharing your experiences with a friend or loved one can help you work through your stress-related issues. It is also useful to consider professional help through therapy if you feel overwhelmed by stress and would like to improve your situation.
Now that you have seen how stress impacts immunity and learned the methods of stress management, all that’s left to do is make the choice to protect your health and follow through. Let’s fight stress together!
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