Running Yourself Ragged

When you’re stressed, you’re tired right? But it’s more than the temporary tiredness of a long day or a short night of sleep. When you get worn down from stress, it taxes your immune system and compromises your body’s ability to heal and rebuild.

This can have an effect on seemingly small things, like the texture of your skin or taking an extra day to get over a cold, to much larger and more far reaching things, like healing from surgery or even altering your risk of cancer.

There’s unavoidable stress in life, no doubt, but learning to deal with it better and maintain your sense of peace and balance, no matter what is happening around you, is one of the best defenses you can have for a better, longer, healthier life.

How exactly does stress from the mind end up affecting the immune system?

“Some kinds of stress — very short-term, that last only a matter of minutes — actually redistribute cells in the bloodstream in a way that could be helpful,” says Suzanne Segerstrom, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky who has conducted studies on stress and the immune system. “But once stress starts to last a matter of days, there are changes in the immune system that aren’t so helpful. And the longer that stress lasts, the more potentially harmful those changes are.”

The fight-or-flight response (short-term stress) goes something like this: When a villager in Africa sees a lion charging at him, for example, the brain sends a signal to the adrenal gland to create hormones called cortisol and adrenaline, which have many different effects on the body, from increasing heart rate and breathing to dilating blood vessels so that blood can flow quickly to the muscles in the legs. Besides helping him run away, this type of acute stress also boosts the immune response for three to five days (presumably to help him heal after the lion takes a swipe at him).

When humans experience stress, our bodies react the same way that animals’ bodies do. Once the lion is gone, a zebra or gazelle’s stress level will return to normal, but humans have more trouble getting back to our routines after a stressful event, whether it’s a car accident or a divorce. We’ll think about it, dream about it, and worry about it for a long time, and that sets us up for long-term problems, says Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford University stress expert and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

Over time, continually activating the stress response may interfere with the immune system. How this affects your disease risk, Sapolsky suggests, depends partly on your risk factors and your lifestyle, including your degree of social support.
– via consumer.healthday.com

Inflammation Is The Enemy

One or two days of stress won’t have a bad impact on your body, but long periods of stress and anxiety can overwhelm your body with cortisol, causing inflammation and caustic stress on your immune system.

Cortisol suppresses inflammation during a response to stress. If it is present in the blood for long periods, the body develops a resistance to cortisol and does not respond to it properly. Instead, it ramps up production of substances that actually promote inflammation leading to a state of chronic inflammation. These pro-inflammation substances, called cytokines, are associated with a host of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune conditions occur when the body basically mistakes itself as a threat and attacks itself. Examples are fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Other chronic conditions include diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Chronic stress also results lower amounts of a protein that is critical to signaling other immune cells. Without these reinforcements, the body is susceptible to contacting acute illnesses, and prolonged healing times. Lymphocytes are a major component of the immune system. They kill invading organisms that would cause disease and they recognize harmful substances and help defend against them. Cortisol and corticosteroids suppress lymphocytes. With a lowered amount of lymphocytes, the body is at increased risk of infection and disease.
– via Adrenal Fatigue Solution

Do you think stress is taxing your immune system?