Although stress affects the immune system, many people either do not know this or do not realize how severe it is. Because it’s tough to imagine anyone knowingly placing their health and life in danger. And that is exactly what happens when we ignore how important the effects of anxiety are to our immune system. Let’s start by outlining the stress response or “fight-or-flight” response.
When you experience a physical or emotional “threat,” the hypothalamus, a very small area at the base of the mind, sets off an alarm system. A set of hormonal and nerve signals then prompt your adrenal glands. These are situated on top of your kidneys and they also release a surge of hormones; the most abundant being cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts your energy levels. Cortisol increases sugars in the blood, enhances your brain’s utilization of glucose (sugar) and increases the availability of compounds that fix tissues.
It’s when all this happens and for longer periods of time that the real trouble begins. Today’s psychological dangers cause your stress response system to work overtime. It’s designed for occasional life dangers. However, daily stressors mean that the body is over-exposed to cortisol and other stress hormones. It can disrupt just about all your body’s processes.
This increases your risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, depression, memory impairment, physical disorders, and other ailments. Additionally, stress affects the immune system. During short bouts of anxiety, immune cells and cells travel faster in the spleen to where they are needed. This enhances your ability to resist disease or anything has hurt your body. Therefore, short-term stress (whatever the cause), activates protective biological mechanisms necessary for survival.
The immune system evolved so that it could quickly handle physical threats. But long-term stress affects the immune system by weakening it. Cortisol, by way of instance, causes the machine to reprioritize its own tasks. Let’s look more closely at the immune system. The immune system protects your body from disease organisms and other foreign bodies called antigens. Your first line of defense includes skin and antibodies. If these fail, two additional immune responses kick in. These other cells move into attach to and leave antigens inactive.
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One type is known as “CD8 cells” or suppressor cells. Psychological stressors actually trigger CD8 cells to divide. This implies there are more of them which cause the immune function to be curbed. And stress also causes catecholamine levels to grow. These compounds work in nerve wracking. The key ones are dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Increased levels of these chemicals have many different impacts. But the most important thing is that the consequences include suppressing the immune function.
Taking all this a step further, what happens when your immune system is suppressed? Your risk of viral disease rises. Stress also results in the release of histamines which may trigger asthma attacks. And it raises the risk for diabetes mellitus, particularly in obese folks. This is because pressure affects insulin requirements. Psychological stress also changes acid concentration in the stomach. This may result in peptic ulcers, stress ulcers, or ulcerative colitis. Chronic stress can also cause plaque buildup in the blood vessels. And of course this is often responsible for angina or heart attacks. This is not a comprehensive list of the diseases connected with emotional stress but they are the most frequent ones.
The immune system is a delicate and complicated system which has the mighty task of protecting your body. But it needs your help because psychological stress affects the immune system. It can’t differentiate between a life threatening stressor and a non-life threatening one. It reacts the same to both. And when your system is continually responding to stress (and think again before you assume it is not ), all of the systems of your body are over-taxed. You pay a hefty price. Learn the symptoms of stress. Begin today to produce habits of normal stress management. You’ll reap the benefits because the physical effect of the stress may not appear for several years. But if you deal with stress effectively, you will improve your health and quality of life now and always. You may break the negative cycle of how stress affects the immune system!