Your body’s immune system works ceaselessly to protect you from illness and recover from injury. This complex system can be weakened by poor diet, insufficient sleep and environmental toxins. But in addition to physical factors, psychological factors – including stress, anxiety, grief and depression – can also have a negative impact on how well your immune system functions. Just how much does stress affect the immune system? And what are some natural ways to cope?
Immunity – Your Body’s Amazing Defense Mechanism
Your immune system is a highly complex system designed to protect you. It helps you recover from injuries and supports the body’s natural defense mechanisms to resist the effects of toxins and pathogens. The immune system is not localized in one part of your body. Rather, immune cells are found throughout the body, including in your skin, bone marrow, bloodstream, lymphatic system, spleen and mucous tissues. Wherever your body detects hostile organisms – such as bacteria, viruses or parasites – it activates an immune response that involves special cells for marking the “threatening” cells and destroying them before they can cause significant harm in the body.
Stress and Your Immune System
Scientists have long been fascinated by the link between mental states and immune function. Their research has shown that long-term states of stress lead to poor communication between immune cells and elevated levels of cortisol and corticosteroid, both of which can compromise immune function. These negative effects can be seen in studies linking psychological stress to such mild ailments as the common cold and cold sores – as well as to more serious health problems like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There’s no doubt that stress, depression, anxiety and stressful life events can seriously impair your body’s ability to fight infection and inflammation, regulate hormones and mount a successful immune response to pathogens.
Natural Stress Management
Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves in stressful life situations through no fault of our own, or struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, experiencing anxiety, grief or depression. What can we do to mitigate stress and thereby improve our body’s immunity?
- Meditation. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation through meditation can reduce anxiety and psychological stress. Try adding twenty minutes of quiet meditation to your morning routine to provide a peaceful oasis where your mind and body can practice letting go of stress.
- Exercise. Another effective tool for stress reduction is physical exercise. Exercise produces “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins in your body, which can reduce feelings of anxiety and help you get better sleep, thereby further reducing stress.
- Nutrition. What you eat and drink can play a crucial role in lowering stress levels. Herbs such as chamomile, mint and valerian are traditionally used in tea for relaxation and calm. Nutrient-rich foods – especially foods with plenty of vitamin C, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids – can help your body resist stress and mood swings. Superfood mushrooms are a great addition to your stress-busting diet, too. Reishi mushroom has been revered for centuries for its ability to help with stress management and support immune function. You can use reishi alone or in a convenient blend with other immune-building mushrooms (Turkey Tail, Chaga and Maitake) to help provide stress relief and immune support simultaneously.
Amy Smith is a writer, educator, and health-conscious mother of five, living on a small homestead in rural Pennsylvania. She produces informative online content for a variety of clients in the fields of natural living, health and wellness, family and parenting.