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How Does Stress Affect the Immune System?

While stress may feel like an emotional response, it has a significant, often far-reaching impact on your physical health. In short, stress isn’t strictly mental: It impacts your cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, and even your immune system. 

Stress and The Immune System

When you feel stressed out, your adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol. Commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”, this chemical is intended to enhance your bodily functioning in a “fight or flight” scenario. So, it causes an increase in your blood sugar, energy levels, and ability to utilize substances that help with tissue repair. 

All of the effects of cortisol are designed to protect you in a threatening situation. Unfortunately, to achieve these effects, cortisol also hampers bodily functions that aren’t immediately necessary, including the digestive, reproductive, and – you guessed it – the immune system. 

How Cortisol Can Cause Low Immunity

Cortisol impairs your immune system’s capacity for combatting foreign intruders. This leaves you more vulnerable to antigens that could make you sick. 

In a fight-or-flight scenario, your body’s stress response helps keep you safe. Fortunately, most of us are rarely in dangerous, life-threatening situations. So, the stress response may often kick into gear when you don’t need it. 

Whether due to work, relationships, or day-to-day responsibilities, if you experience frequent stress, cortisol may frequently hamper your immune function. This may lead to symptoms of low immunity, including:

  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Digestive issues
  • Autoimmune conditions

Managing Stress For a Strong Immune System

If stress becomes chronic, it could have a long-term impact on your immune system. At The Center for Natural & Integrative Medicine, we can offer a variety of stress-relief strategies to strengthen your immune system and your health as a whole. To learn more, schedule an appointment with us today!

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