What Is the Relationship between Stress and the Immune System?

Brandon May

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.

Emotional stress and immunity have been shown to be directly connected during times of illness.
Emotional stress and immunity have been shown to be directly connected during times of illness.

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.

A person who has a compromised immune system is susceptible to influenza and other viral infections.
A person who has a compromised immune system is susceptible to influenza and other viral infections.

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.

Art therapy has been shown to increase immune function.
Art therapy has been shown to increase immune function.

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.

Guided relaxation techniques and exercises have been shown to improve the immune system.
Guided relaxation techniques and exercises have been shown to improve the immune system.
A person who is chronically stressed may suffer more colds and flus than her peers who handle stress more successfully.
A person who is chronically stressed may suffer more colds and flus than her peers who handle stress more successfully.
Research has found that taking regular naps may reduce stress.
Research has found that taking regular naps may reduce stress.
Chronic stress hampers the body's ability to fight fatigue and disease.
Chronic stress hampers the body's ability to fight fatigue and disease.

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Discussion Comments

fify

@simrin-- My doctor said that a weak immune system is an invitation to diabetes. You need to avoid stress at all costs so that your body can recuperate.

burcidi

@simrin-- There is definitely a link between the two. I've seen studies done on this subject and a link between stress and immune system health has been found.

For example, there was one study that said that the stress hormone cortisol interferes with the function of the immune system. We need some cortisol in our body, but when it's too much, it wrecks havoc with the immune system.

This is probably why people tend to get sick when they're stressed or immediately after the stressful situation ends. Have you ever went on vacation only to spend the entire vacation sick? This is also related to that.

SteamLouis

There has to be a connection between stress and the immune system.

I had a very stressful several years when I got out of high school. I was working three different jobs to make ends meet and I was taking college classes at night time. After two years of this hectic and stressful lifestyle, I became sick. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, diabetes and a nerve disorder all within a matter of months. I don't believe this was all a coincidence.

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