It’s relatively easy to identify some of the physical signs of stress.

When we’re under pressure, we toss and turn at night. Our heart races and our head aches. We may find it difficult to focus or stay on task.

However, while these symptoms might be most apparent, there are other, internal issues also at work. For instance, did you know that stress can negatively impact your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness?

Your overall wellness and health hinge on many factors, and this is one of them. 

Today, we’re exploring this link more closely. We’ll also share how you can make simple changes to lower your stress levels and boost your immune response. 

Understanding Your Immune System

Before we dive into the relationship between stress and immunity, let’s start with a brief overview of how your immune system works.

In short, this is an intricate network, comprised of billions of individual cells. The main types of cells are white blood cells.

These cells constantly travel into and out of your internal systems. As they move among your tissues and organs, they help safeguard and defend your body against foreign pathogens (e.g. bacteria and viruses) that could weaken or harm it.

In general, there are two types of white blood cells in your immune system. They include:

  • Lymphocytes
  • Phagocytes

Phagocytes generate a universal response to any pathogen. On the other hand, lymphocytes generate different types of immune responses, each tailored to that specific invader. For this reason, phagocytes are considered part of your innate immunity, while lymphocytes are a central part of your adaptive, or specialized, immunity. 

Your adaptive immune response kicks in when your innate immunity isn’t capable of destroying germs that invade your body. It takes longer to activate, but once it “learns” the pathogen, it remembers it and knows how to respond more quickly next time. 

Pathogens and Antigens

What exactly is a pathogen and how is it related to your stress levels?

Put simply, a pathogen is any type of microorganism that can cause disease. Bacteria and viruses are two types of pathogens. 

Antigens are proteins that are attached to the surface of each pathogen. The primary role of these molecules is to trigger a response from your immune system. When this happens, your immune system goes to work creating antibodies that fight the infection. 

This is a natural response that your body is trained to perform. However, it has a harder time reacting when you’re under stress. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

The Role of Cortisol

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It’s produced in your adrenal cortex, which is the outer region of an adrenal gland. These glands are located on the top of each of your kidneys and release many hormones you can’t live without. 

When you’re under a tight deadline, overwhelmed at work, or facing pressure at home, your levels of cortisol increase. 

When this happens, it crowds out and lowers the number of lymphocytes present in your immune system. This weakens the system’s ability to fight off any antigens that attack it. This leaves you more susceptible to illnesses and infections. 

The Risks of Stress Responses

Rising stress levels do more than increase your cortisol levels. They also catalyze a stress response in your other internal systems. These can create negative physical reactions on top of the mental strain you’re already feeling.

Below is one example of a stress response in another system within your body. 

Gastrointestinal System

You may already know that a stressful situation gives you knots and butterflies in your belly. This is because it alters your gut bacteria and affects your brain-gut connection, which can lead to bloating and stomach discomfort. 

However, did you realize it can actually inhibit your digestion and affect the number of nutrients your intestines are able to absorb? Moreover, the adrenaline released during a stress response can also lead to stomach ulcers. 

The Indirect Effects of Stress on Your Immunity

It’s also important to mention that stress can also indirectly affect your immune system. 

When you’re feeling pulled to your limits, you may be more prone to engage in unhealthy coping behaviors. For instance, you might use alcohol or tobacco to soothe the burden you’re experiencing. 

These actions do little to solve the problem, and instead can lead to more issues. Drinking and smoking upsets the equilibrium, or balance, of your immune system, making it more difficult to ward off disease. It also puts you at a heightened risk for developing immune and autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Lowering Stress Improves Your Wellness and Health

It’s normal to feel a little stressed every now and then. 

However, living in a constant state of overwhelm can wreak havoc on your physical, mental, and emotional health. 

Heightened cortisol levels lower your immune system’s ability to protect your body from harmful antigens. They also impact your gastrointestinal systems and other systems within your body. 

Want to supercharge your wellness and health? Find stress-busting activities like yoga and walking to keep your stress hormones in check. You can also find a creative outlet, or talk to friends and family members. 

Along the way, we’ll help you and your customers feel your best, from the inside out. The ingredients we produce are filled with the nutrients they need, without the harmful fillers they don’t. To learn more about our mission and work with our team, feel free to contact us today.