How Modern Day Stress Impairs Your Immune System in Fighting Off Infection
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When you’re stressed out, your body reacts in ways that are meant to protect you. The tiny region at your brain’s base called the hypothalamus sets off an alarm system in your body, prompting your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of sugar, and curbs other functions that are not essential in a fight or flight situation. It alters the immune system response and suppresses your digestive function, reproductive system, and growth processes.
This is because historically, the stress that cavemen faced was mostly due to physical threats, such as encountering wild animals, where the body had to direct all of its resources to a fight or flight situation in order for survival.
In that kind of situation, functions such as digestion and reproduction were deemed non essential, so they were suppressed in order to enable the cavemen to use all of their resources to fight off the physical threat. The fight itself was highly physical, so at the end of the fight, the cavemen produced a lot of sweat, which carried the stress hormones out of their system.
Contrast that to typical modern day stress, which is usually not physical. When you’re stressed out at work while sitting in a meeting or in front of a computer, your body releases stress hormones, but you remain seated.
You don’t get physically active to fight off the stress. You don’t produce sweat to carry the stress hormones out of your system. As a result, the stress hormones build up inside your system.
Having high levels of these stress hormones in your body can suppress the effectiveness of your immune system in fighting off antigens that cause infection. Stress hormones can decrease your body’s lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help you fight off infection. The lower your lymphocytes level, the more at risk you are for viruses.
Having high stress levels over a period of time can lead to higher levels of inflammation in your body. In the long term, this chronic inflammation puts a strain on your immune system, and it can no longer protect you effectively.
After accumulating work stress for a whole day, you probably encounter even more stress while sitting in traffic on your way home from work. More stress builds up as you remain physically seated and inactive throughout the whole process. After you get home, perhaps the stress cycle continues as you rush through getting dinner ready or more chores waiting for you at home.
This cycle of stress goes on repeatedly. You are constantly exposed to stressors. Your body constantly feels under attack, and the fight or flight reaction stays turned on.
Doing light to moderate exercises, taking some time off, engaging in relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing, are all simple ways you can do to help curb and stress.
Actively trying to stay away from things that evoke negativity or get your riled up whenever possible is a great way to minimise your exposure to stress in the first place. Positive relationship and having a positive social circle is also very important.
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