Chronic Stress Can Wreak Havoc To Your Body And Weaken Your Immune System

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Stress is a natural human reaction that occurs when we are unable to cope with mental and emotional pressure and specific demands. Most of us go through stress at some points in our lives. Some of us go through stress every day.  Stress can lead to a chronic condition if we don’t take proper steps to manage it well.

Many things can lead to stress: death of a loved one, divorce or separation, work-related stress, dealing with toxic or difficult people in our lives, losing a job, unexpected money problems and a prolonged pandemic like Covid-19.  Even positive life changes, such as moving to a bigger house, gaining a job promotion or having a new baby can be sources of stress.

We all deal with stress differently.  How we cope with stress depends on factors such as our personality, genetics, early life events and social as well as economic circumstances.

How Your Body Might Respond To Stress

The popular saying “stress kills” couldn’t be a more bona fide statement. When constant chronic stress dominates your thoughts throughout the day, it wreaks havoc to your body from causing anxiety to panic attacks, irritability, poor food choices, weakened immune system, fatigue, an upset stomach, low self-esteem, depression, loss of sex drive and may even put you at greater risk of developing cancer.

Some amount of good stress or eustress can be good for us.  Good stress challenges us to work harder, keeps us alert, motivated, keeps our creative juices flowing so that we are prepared for something bigger or to stave off danger.  

According to research, an overload of chronic stress can weaken our immune system and make us fall sick easily. It can also bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.

Stress Weakens Our Immune System

Have you ever wondered why you keep getting the sniffles and flu every time you go through a period of chronic stress?  If you’re going through a prolonged period of rough patch, you may also notice that you keep falling sick easily.

When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is compromised and we become more susceptible to infections.  Stress lowers the body’s lymphocytes, which is the white blood cells that help ward off infection. The lower your lymphocyte levels, the easier you’re at risk for viruses like the common cold.

If you’ve noticed that you fall sick frequently, feel fatigue or feel malaise and can’t figure out what’s wrong, it may mean your immune system is weakened.  Stress may be the culprit.

What Happens To Your Body When The Natural Stress Response Goes Haywire

The stress response system in our body is usually self-limiting. The hormone levels return to baseline once a perceived threat is over.   Other systems in the body resume their regular activities when heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels in tandem with the drop in adrenaline and cortisol levels.  However, when stressors are always present and you constantly feel threatened, that fight-or-flight reaction remains turned on.

When our body’s stress response system is continuously activated and our body is drowning in cortisol and other stress hormones, this can disrupt nearly every system in your body. This can have adverse impact on our health, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Sleep problems (insomnia or sleeping excessively)
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Memory and concentration impairment
  • Speeds up the aging process
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How To Take Control Of Your Stress The Healthy Way

You may have to live and deal with a current stressful situation that you cannot change but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you.

It is important that you learn how to identify what causes you stress and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations.

Stress management strategies include:

  1. Have a positive outlook in life.
  2. Prioritize healthy eating and getting sufficient sleep.
  3. Exercise regularly. Exercise releases your pent-up emotions and releases endorphins—the “feel good” hormones, decreases stress hormones, and helps you sleep better at night. Make an effort to exercise every day for overall better physical and mental health.
  4. Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, massage, meditation and praying.
  5. Keeping a journal or blog and writing about your thoughts, the problems you are facing and what you’re grateful for in your life.
  6. Make time for fun and relaxation every day. Nurturing yourself is so important.   Do something that makes you happy – it can be something as simple as shopping or indulging in your favourite ice-cream.
  7. Learn to decline requests and demands that would create excessive stress in your life.
  8. Fostering healthy friendships and talking with friends and family.
  9. One of the most effective therapies for reducing stress and anxiety is humour and laughter.  A good hearty laugh decreases cortisol levels, causes endorphins to rise and strengthens our immune system.
  10. Get a pet. Interacting with animals and laughing at their antics have been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and increase the levels of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine in your brain.
  11. Cut out things that add to your stress so that you can experience more peace and have more time for yourself.
  12. Unhealthy ways of managing stress, such as drugs, tobacco, alcohol or binging on unhealthy food to manage stress must be avoided.
  13. Talk to your doctor and, if necessary, seek professional mental health treatment.

When stress becomes overwhelming or chronic, it can take a major toll on your mental well-being and health. Thus, it is essential to have effective stress relievers that can calm your mind and your body. 

Finding the best stress relief strategies may take some experimenting as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option.  It’s important to keep trying out a strategy that will help you manage the vicissitudes of life in a healthy way to prevent long-term damage to our bodies and minds.

Don’t we all love to wake up every morning feeling absolutely at peace without a single stressor in the world? But we know that this is highly impossible. Stress is an unavoidable fact of life in the modern world. So rather than chase the elusive dream of a stress-free life, try to see the glass half full and live life to the fullest.

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Health Freak Mommy
Author: Health Freak Mommy

A health freak mom to 3 teenage girls. Blogger since April 2007.