And how it effects your Immune System
Immunity is the body’s ability to fight invading organisms like bacteria and viruses. Your body has a very advanced mechanism for this, however there are some things that can hinder the proper functioning of the Immune System and comprise its effectiveness. These factors are very intricate and mostly beyond your control but one factor that moderates this whole process is Stress, a factor you have control over. However, to understand the effect of stress on your immunity and body, we must delve a bit into the biology of stress.
Understanding the Biology of Stress:
Two main bodily systems work when you feel stressed, namely Sympathetic Nervous System and Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Axis (HPA Axis).
· Sympathetic Activation:
Sympathetic Nervous System is to do with your Fight-or -Flight response. When you feel stressed, this information is perceived by your brain and then it is conveyed to Hypothalamus, a region in the brain. Hypothalamus sends message to the Adrenal Glands, located just above the kidneys. The adrenal glands as a response secrete two hormones Epinephrine (EP) and Norepinephrine(NE) also known by the name Adrenaline and Noradrenaline. The secretion of these hormones activate the Sympathetic Nervous System and puts the body in the Fight-or Flight mode. This in turn results in increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and increased sweating among other changes.
This mechanism has a tendency to restore the body to its balance once the threat or stressor is no more or is perceived no more. However, if you continue to perceive the stressor even without its physical presence (which is mostly the case, the stressor lingers in the mind), this system continues to be active and these hormones in turn can suppress the immune system. If the Sympathetic system is not switched off, it can run amok, adversely affecting your health.
· Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Axis (HPA Axis):
Another parallel response to stress is the activation of the HPA Axis. HPA axis is a mechanism that responds to stress and helps in recovering from it. In an ideal situation, as the name suggests, the hypothalamus (H) activates the Pituitary gland(P), also called the master gland, to secrete hormones which in turn stimulate the adrenal glands (A) (the ones above the kidney) to secrete hormones.
Of these hormones Cortisol plays an important role. Cortisol is released in response to stress and helps your body to get back to a steady state after encountering stress. However, being stressed for a longer time can make Cortisol too active in your body and also compromise the functioning of the HPA Axis altogether, leading to difficulty in recovering from stress. Thus, being persistently stressed can make cortisol to act abruptly in your body. Not only, it makes this HPA mechanism haphazard but also has adverse effects on other body functions.
So after enough jargons from biology, the crux is, your body has natural tendencies to heal, heal from anything including stress and for this it has inbuilt flawless mechanisms. However, persistent and chronic stress (always being stressed and doing nothing about it) can weaken these natural fighting mechanisms of your body. Once the body’s ability to respond to stress is compromised and becomes abrupt, it will start affecting other bodily functions and organs, with your immune system being one of them. The direct consequence of which is easily picking up viral or bacterial infections or frequently falling sick, as the immune system can’t fight with the same efficiency.
Which is why it is essential to address your stressors and actively seek stress management. Here are some Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques that might help you to take the first step towards your mental and physical well-being.
If you have been stressed a lot lately and wondering about ‘a psychologist near me’, you can also seek help from an online therapist and start your stress management right from your home, without the need to go anywhere.