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How Stress Affects your Immune System

Stress is practically unavoidable, right? It’s just part of life. Whether it’s a demanding job, a family to take care of, a lot of social obligations, or anything else, we’re all exposed to a fair amount of stress, even during calm periods of life. Whether it’s small daily stresses, big events that completely upend your life, or the chronic stress that can come when those weeks, months, or even years are just tough, stress can have a negative impact on your body; specifically your immune system.

When you’re experiencing the mental tension of stress, your body goes into what’s referred to as the “fight or flight response”. This causes a release of stress hormones and an array of physical reactions that are meant to help you survive. That’s great when you’re in a life or death situation, but not so much when it’s a traffic jam, frustrating coworker, or yet another relatively minor issue. And while there is such a thing as a ‘good’ stress – like those that build physical or mental resiliency and stamina – it’s the bad stress we need to really get control of, because that’s what kicks off the negative effects on your health.

Stress becomes most harmful when it’s chronic; that is, regular and long-lasting. It’s this chronic stress that Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, and Gregory Miller, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, determined caused such a negative impact on the immune system. Through their meta-analysis1 of nearly 300 studies they determined that long-term stress created activity within the body that ravaged the immune system, showing that duration of stress, not severity, was the key factor. While these effects were found in every age group, it was most pronounced in older adults and those who had other illnesses and medical conditions.

This decrease in immune function puts your body at a much higher risk for infection, disease, and acute illnesses, as well as slow down the body’s ability to heal from injury, and cause an exacerbation of any underlying conditions that may be present.

There’s no doubt that stress has a major negative impact on your body, so to combat this, it’s vital that you begin to take control of the stress in your life. Regular exercise, deep breathing, a healthy diet, and yes, regular massage therapy sessions are all going to help you with this. It’s really a matter of making a conscious effort each day to keep your stress levels in check; to combat those stress signals at every turn and learn to adapt your thinking and behavior to do what your body needs.


1 Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Gregory E. Miller

Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry

Psychological Bulletin 2004, Vol. 130, No. 4, 601–630

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