Does stress damage the immune system? That question can only be answered by discussing the difference between acute (short-term) anxiety and chronic (long-term stress). While acute stress causes reactions within the body including boosting the immune system, chronic stress may impair the immune system.
Better questions are “Does stress damage the immune system on the brief term?” And “Does stress damage the immune system on the long run?” The body’s response to acute stress (a real or immediate threat like a confrontation with a burglar) that may be referred to as the “fight or flight” response includes changes in most of the systems of the body. Since the question is “Does stress damage the immune system?”, then we’ll concentrate on these responses to acute stress which are temporarily boosting the immune system in this flight or flight situation.
The most noticeable initial result of the burglar’s look is an increase in heart rate. Your body is preparing itself for the possibility you will have to run. The rise in heart rate activates the spleen to release more white and red blood cells. The red blood cells increase your oxygen supply, while the white blood cells will be crucial for boosting the immune system, if you happen to fall or the burglar strikes you.
What is happening?
Portions of the brain activate the creation and release of cortisol, a primary stress hormone, which dampens less important areas of the immune system, so that white blood cells and other infection fighters may be made to the regions of the body where injury or disease are most likely to happen, namely skin, bone marrow and lymph nodes, thus effectively boosting the immune system temporarily. Once the immediate danger has passed, the body systems return to normal.
So, the answer to “does stress damage the immune system” on the short term is”no”. Intense pressure activates the body’s natural defense systems and while this contributes to boosting the immune system temporarily, it doesn’t”harm” the immune system. Chronic stress, however, is a different story. Does stress damage the immune system on the long run? It may, if persistent stressful circumstances, like a high-pressure job or an unhappy relationship, don’t enable the body to return to a normal relaxed state.
Keep in mind
Rather than boosting the immune system, chronic stress seems to blunt the immune response, increase the risk for infections and impair an individual’s response to immunizations. Studies have shown that people under chronic stress tend to have lower than normal white blood cell counts, are prone to colds and other viruses, take longer to recover from them and experience worse symptoms than those who don’t have high stress levels.
If you’re concerned about the reply to this question; does stress damage the immune system, you might believe you are in a stressful situation over which you don’t have any control. It might be impossible to leave a high pressure job so as to lower your anxiety level and if doing so would cause financial difficulties, you might actually increase your anxiety level. Good nutrition, regular exercise and particular health supplements might help you protect yourself from the effects of chronic stress by naturally boosting the immune system and allowing the body to return to a relaxed state.