We talk about stress a lot, especially now. It’s one of those hot-button health issues that we can’t fully eliminate from our lives but we can try and find ways to manage its effect on us. Last week we gave you six different ways to battle stress, but now, let’s take a look at why that’s important. Stress and its effects on our mental health is a widely discussed topic, but did you know that stress could directly affect your immune system? Surprisingly enough, stress has some positive attributes and can be good for your immune system as well as having some setbacks.
Before we can go into that, let’s break down what exactly your immune system is.
What Is Your Immune System?
The short definition is that our immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that fight infections within our body. The cells of our immune system move in and out of our organs to defend against antigens - any foreign body that enters the bloodstream. The main type of these cells are white blood cells, but white blood cells can be split into two different categories: B cells and T cells. B cells produce antibodies that are released to destroy invading bacteria. T cells are there if the bacteria successfully gets to the cell to destroy the now infected cell.
Once your immune system was exposed to an antigen, it remembers that particular antigen and recognizes it if it shows up again. Since it knows what antibodies destroyed this antigen before, you typically won’t get sick because of your immune system, giving you immunity to the antibodies. There are three specific types of immunity within your immune system. Innate immunity is your body’s first line of defense. The innate immune system keeps anything harmful from entering the body. Active immunity is what develops when you’re infected with a disease or vaccinated against one. This immunity is long-lasting and for some diseases, like chickenpox, for example, can last a lifetime.
The final type of immunity is passive immunity, which comes from your body receiving antibodies instead of creating them through your immune system. When a baby is born, they receive antibodies from their mother through breast milk which provides them with antibodies. Passive immunity is short-term, only lasting for a few months.
With all that in mind, we can move on to look at stress and its effects on this system.
How Can Stress Affect Your Immune System?
When we’re stressed, we give off a hormone called cortisol, which is needed for the body’s fight or flight response. Typically, the amount of cortisol that you produce is extremely regulated by your body. The regulation ensures that your body stays perfectly balanced. However, when we’re stressed often enough, cortisol can end up suppressing the immune system’s effectiveness. Some of the most common stress coping strategies - smoking, drinking, not eating, not sleeping, etc - can indirectly affect your immune system through their health risks. But in terms of a direct effect on the immune system, let’s break down the different types of stress.
There are two different types of stress, acute and chronic, and each one has a different effect on the immune system. Acute stress is the stress that comes from experiencing a specific unpredictable situation that makes you feel like you’re not in control. Acute stress is good for you. Your body’s reaction to short-term stress is how ‘resilience’ is defined. Acute stress enhances your immune system’s reaction times, quickly increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. Those moments where you wake up in a panic thinking that you’re late for work? That stress you’re feeling helps keep your cognitive behaviors at the rate they’re supposed to be at. A rat study showed that brief stressful events caused stem cells to increase mental performance and kept their brain alert. This same test also showed that acute stress could help improve long-term memory. So, the stress in small doses is good for your immune system, but once it gets to the second type - chronic - is when you have some issues.
Chronic stress can increase pro-inflammatory cytokines as well, however, chronic stress that can last up to years can lead to too much inflammation. Too much inflammation in your immune system can compromise your immune system and health, making it easier to get infections. Chronic stress also gradually increases things like our resting heart rate and blood pressure, meaning our immune system has to work harder to keep everything functioning normally. A change like that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.
Stress responses can also affect your digestive system. It can inhibit digestion until the stress reaction has passed. This halting of the digestive system can cause ulcers. The action of adrenaline and noradrenaline releases fatty acids into your body, which can produce clumps and lead to blood clots.
Stress, like many things, can be good in moderation. When feeling moments of acute stress, go back to your favorite stress reliever, or reach for a dropper or two of our RESET Balance CBD for mind & body balance. Can’t relax? Try out RESET Restore CBN for better relaxation. For more tips and tricks on combating stress or the issues that come along with them, read our tips and tricks here.
If you feel that you’re experiencing chronic stress, talk to your doctor about your symptoms for guidance on what you could do to help lower your stress levels.