What Effect Does Stress Have on the Immune System?

Have you ever started to feel run down or catch a cold after a big test, a move, a divorce, or any other stressful time in your life? This is a common phenomenon with a simple explanation: stress and immunity are linked. 

Our bodies were designed to manage stress in small doses. When something triggers our stress response (like a dangerous threat), stress hormones and adrenaline help us make a quick decision to either fight, flee, or freeze. After the threat is gone, our bodies return to a normal state of balance. 

The trouble is that our stress triggers aren’t the same today as they were millions – or even hundreds – of years ago. They are less likely to be immediate dangers and are more likely to be frequent, constant annoyances. Still, our bodies respond the same as if we were in immediate danger. The result? A constant flood of stress hormones that weaken and suppress our immune system. 

Thankfully, there are many natural ways you can overcome the chronic stress cycle and save your immune system. Read on to learn what you can do to reclaim your calm and boost your resilience!

How Stress and Depression Affect Your Immune System 

Stress and depression don’t just negatively affect your mood. They also wreak havoc on your immune system. Research shows that chronic stress and mood disorders weaken the body’s natural defenses in several ways: 

#1 - Stress increases the production of cortisol. 

Chronic or intense periods of stress trigger the release of a “stress hormone” called cortisol. Depression has also been shown to produce high levels of cortisol in the body.

In normal levels, cortisol helps us survive dangerous situations. It signals the body to send the majority of our energy and resources to the heart, brain, lungs, and skeletal muscles so that we are in a heightened state and ready to fight or run, giving us the best chance of survival. When the danger, or stressor, is gone, our bodies can return to a relaxed state.

In constant high levels (as is common in those with chronic stress), cortisol loses its beneficial functions. If the body constantly thinks it’s in this “fight or flight” mode, few resources get allocated to the immune system, the body is overworked, and our protection against disease is diminished.

#2 - Stress inhibits white blood cell production.

White blood cells, or leukocytes, are the body’s front-line defense against viruses, bacteria, cancers, and infections. They include essential cells like neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, T-cells, and B-cells. Unfortunately, stress “turns off” leukocyte production and sometimes even interferes with their infection-fighting activities. When stress is chronic, we severely underproduce these essential immune cells and are left at a higher risk of developing issues like the common cold, cold sores, and more.

#3 - Stress increases inflammation.

In small doses, cortisol reduces inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, when stress is constant and there is a perpetually high level of cortisol in the blood, the body gets used to these levels, and inflammation rises. Over time, high levels of inflammation overwork the immune system and fatigue the body’s ability to fight against disease.

#4 - Stress and depression lead to unhealthy coping habits.

Stress and depression not only directly impact immunity but they also cause other indirect coping habits that further impact our immune function negatively. For instance, many people under high levels of stress will turn to alcohol or smoking, whereas some people turn to food such as lots of sweets. All of these things suppress the immune system further and can lead to digestive and respiratory illnesses.  

5 Stress Relief and Relaxation Tips to Try to Improve Your Immunity 

It’s true – modern society creates an environment where excessive stress is fairly common. Between work, finances, family, health concerns, social media, and more, it can seem like we are always in survival mode.

Thankfully, there are many ways you can manage stress and enhance your immune function naturally.

#1 - Get a stress relief massage. 

Ahhh, massage. Just the word seems to cause a little stress to melt away. Getting a massage focused on relaxation and eliminating stress can be very helpful when trying to manage stress levels. Massage therapists are trained to focus on specific parts of the body, including stress pressure points, to release the unwanted tension we carry. Studies also show that getting routine stress relief massages helps bring the body into “rest and digest” mode and keeps stress levels low.

#2 - Consider stress counseling. 

You know you’re stressed. But how can you work to relieve your stressors if you aren’t sure of the true cause of your stress? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not know how to improve your stress when you aren’t sure what your triggers are. This is where seeing a counselor or therapist would be extremely beneficial. They can help you pinpoint your stressors and give you an action plan to eliminate them, as well as help you create ways to handle stress in a healthier way.

#3 - Exercise at least 3 times per week. 

One of the best ways to support our immune system is to simply be active. Exercise is our built-in stress-reliever and antidepressant (and has even been proven to work better than some medications). Get outside and get some fresh air with a jog or a hike, incorporate yoga into your schedule, go for a bike ride, or even dance! Exercise has been proven to boost immunity when done regularly, so aim for at least 3 days a week and exercise the stress right out of your body. 

#4 - Eat for nervous and immune system health. 

Diet plays an important role in our overall health, including the immune system. If you’re using sweets and junk food to cope with stress, this will actually suppress the immune system and increase inflammation throughout the body. Eliminating sugar and fueling up on immune-enhancing, gut-boosting foods is the best remedy for stress and poor immune function. Check out Dr. Danielle’s favorite healthy recipes for inspiration!

Aside from cooking delicious healthy meals, Dr. Danielle’s Gut Assist is the easiest way to make sure you’re protecting your body with nourishing, healing whole-food compounds every day. Simply add a scoop to a fruit and veggie smoothie or a tall glass of water to improve your gut health and immunity.

#5 - Ease stress with strategic supplements. 

Exercise, healthy eating, meditation, yoga…these are all incredible habits to help build your resilience to stress. But, like all things, these habits take time. To help you reduce your stress levels faster – and reverse the damage done by stress – a stress-fighting supplement can help.

Dr. Danielle formulated a specific supplement just for this purpose: Stress Lift. Stress Lift uses natural ingredients like Schisandra, ashwagandha, and Siberian Rhodiola root to support your adrenal glands and regulate your cortisol levels naturally. Those who take Stress Lift regularly also report a general sense of calm and wellbeing, as well as improved energy and healthy immunity.

To target immune support more specifically, consider using Dr. Danielle’s Elderberry Immune Assist and Dr. Danielle’s Turmeric Curcumin supplements daily. These two formulas contain powerful immune-enhancing herbs, spices, and compounds that restore immune function and fight inflammation.

Balance Stress, Live Well

As long as cortisol is continually pumping through your system, your immunity will be compromised. 

Thankfully, these tips and stress relief supplements can reverse the negative effects of stress on your immunity and restore the energy required to produce white blood cells, fight inflammation, and restore homeostasis.

Make managing your stress a daily habit and you’ll be rewarded with an immune system that protects you today, tomorrow, and long into the future!

To Your health and happiness, Doctor Danielle

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