How Stress Affects Your Immune System

Stress has been a struggle for all of us at one time or another in our lives. Our fast-paced, modern lifestyle can literally chip away at the foundation of our health. Have you ever noticed you get sick when you are super stressed? Or when you stop and go on holidays? Or maybe you have this cold that just doesn’t go away! The health of the immune system is greatly impacted by our emotional state, level of stress, lifestyle, dietary habits, and nutritional status.

What is the immune system?

The immune system defends our body against invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and foreign bodies. It is spread throughout the body and is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs. This vast network is constantly on the lookout for invaders, and once an enemy is spotted, they mount an attack!

What happens to our body when we are stressed?

Stressful situations result in an influx of stress hormones being pumped around the body. One of these hormones is cortisol and it works to suppress nonessential functions, like your immune response and digestion. While this is helpful for a short period of time, prolonged stress can result in inflammation, suppress immune cells needed to fight infections making you more susceptibility to infection and making it that little bit harder for you to recover from an illness. 

Stress can also change the balance of bacteria in your gut and these bacteria affect immune function. Stress may also weaken your gut’s intestinal lining making you more susceptible to illness, inflammation, exhaustion, and nutritional deficiencies.

Indirectly stress can also affect the immune system as we tend to resort to unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking alcohol or copious amounts of coffee, eating too much sugar, not sleeping properly and giving up on exercise. 

How can I support my immune system?

While overcoming stress may be easier said than done sometimes, actively trying to reduce your stress levels is the first step in getting your immune system back in balance. Other ways to support your immune system are:

  • Get adequate sleep, a minimum of 7 hours a night

  • Eat a wide variety of fresh whole foods within your diet to provide you with the nutrients your immune system needs to function at an optimal level

  • Drinking at least 2 litres of water daily

  • Schedule in self-care and give your body the chance to decompress from our generally hectic daily live

  • Quit smoking (if you are a smoker) as it undermines basic immune defenses

  • Reduce your alcohol intake as excessive consumption can impair the immune system

  • Get outside for some sunshine and a daily dose of Vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels correlate with a greater risk of infection

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If you're having trouble with the health of your immune system and would like more guidance and support to help you feel better, please contact me here as I'd be happy to have a face to face consultant with you if you're in Brisbane, or I also connect with people from around Australia and the world via Skype sessions too.