The body's immune system is an intricate network designed to fight off harmful bacteria from the environment, as well as harmful free radicals produced within the body itself. It is known that stress can impact the immune system in a negative way, suppressing healthy immune function and making the body defenseless against invading and foreign viruses. Stress and the immune system have been studied in clinical research to show that any stress placed on the body can hinder its defensive signals. Emotional stress and immunity have been shown to be directly connected during times of illness, prompting some physicians to suggest complementary therapy alongside traditional medical treatment of disease.
When a foreign invader attacks the body, like a bacteria or virus, the immune system is triggered to attack these substances to prevent infection or illness. A healthy diet and exercise program are a couple of important factors that support the immune system's ability to combat these invaders effectively, decreasing the likeliness of developing a cold, flu or other illness. Studies on stress and the immune system show that factors such as emotional trauma or anxiety can actually decrease the function of the immune system. Researchers have found that when the body is under a state of chronic stress, the immune system can stop functioning normally.
It is unknown why the link between stress and immune system function exists; however, it may be due to the fact that hormones to combat emotional stress may suppress the immune system temporarily until the stress is gone. Physical stress and the immune system are also linked, as over-exercising or physical trauma can lead to a depressed immune system. It has been shown that those with chronic levels of stress in their lives catch a cold or the flu on a regular basis compared to those who handle stress effectively. Also, immune system cells have been shown to be lower in number in those who are in a chronic state of stress.
Some studies have shown how stress and the immune system play a role in cancer treatment, making relaxation techniques and applications an important component in fighting the disease. Alongside proper medication and medical knowledge, regular exercise and meditation are often suggested to patients who want to incorporate natural techniques to promote immune system health. Art therapy, talk therapy and even guided relaxation have been shown to increase immune function. Yoga is a popular tool using both exercise and relaxation to improve immune system response, and is a popular exercise among those fighting immune system-related disorders.