In this article, we will be looking at the effects of stress on the immune system of our body.
But before we start, we need to understand:
What is Stress?
According to Psychology, stress is a feeling of emotional or physical strain and pressure; stress can be positive or negative.
A small amount of positive stress is beneficial and healthy; it helps in improving performance, motivation, and adaptation.
Negative stress is a big box full of problems; it decreases performance, demotivates individuals, and leads to mental and physical problems.
Dr. Hans Selye, founder of the stress theory, according to him,
“Stress can be perceived by a person in two forms”
Which, he called as negative stress, distress, and the positive stress known as EUSTRESS.
The simplest way to understand, what EUSTRESS and Distress mean is by looking back at the exam times.
Just a few days before the exam, you feel stressed and under pressure, some of us are able to use that feeling positively, and it becomes a motivation to study harder and perform better, and that feeling becomes ultimately useful. This is EUSTRESS.
While the rest of us respond very poorly to the situation and feel anxious, you feel all those emotions in your head, you feel dizzy, nauseated, even gets sick during this period.
You may have studied well for the exams, but the pressure and stress get on your nerves, and you perform very less than your potential, this is DISTRESS.
Now, that we have understood what the term stress means, let’s look at:-
What happens when you are stressed?
During the times of stress, the Hypothalamus, a collection of nuclei that connects the brain and the Endocrine System signals the Pituitary Gland to produce a hormone, which in turn signals the Adrenal Gland located above the kidneys to increase the production of CORTISOL.
This is extremely useful in short term scenario that is why CORTISOL is known as the Stress Hormone.
In humans, one of the systems that respond to challenging circumstances or stress is the Immune System. Broadly, the immune system comprises of cells, proteins, organs, and tissues that work together to provide protection against bodily diseases.
During acute stress that lasts for a matter of minutes or hours, the immune system mobilizes the cells which prepare the body from injury or infection.
These immune cells under the influence of cortisol fight off infections and the body manage the stressful scenario.
In this process, pro-inflammatory cytokines are also produced which are necessary for eliminating pathogens and initiating healing.
However, this process of inflammation has its own problems, as it leads to
- Oxidative damage,
- Free radical damage,
- Cellular deaths,
- Systemic tissue degeneration
To prevent this, our body secretes Cortisol; it provides the energy that is required to deal with the challenge.
It’s also a potent anti-inflammatory that prevents damage to the body’s own cells.
Experiment to observe the effects of stress on the immune system
A group of scientists performed an experiment on medical students to observe the effects of stress on the immune system during exams.
These medical students were divided into two groups, out of which 49 were males and 26 were females.
The team of scientists took blood samples from both the groups before the exam, which was a relatively low-stress time and after the exam, which was a high-stress time.
The activity of Lymphocytes was checked in the blood samples of both the groups before and after the exam, and the researchers found that immune responses were weak in the students after the exam and also influence who are experiencing stressful life events and psychiatric symptoms such as depression or anxiety.
What does this immune system dysfunction does to the stress?
- Your tendency and frequency of falling sick increases exponentially,
- If you are already having an illness, your symptoms might get progressively severe.
Sustained cortisol activity during stress is associated with an increase in gastrointestinal symptoms which explains the stomach ache and frequent visits to the washrooms.
A high level of information promoting cytokines resulting from stress has recently been implicated in the Aetiology of Psychiatric disorders.
Chronic stress has been shown to enhance the risk of developing autoimmune diseases because of constant immune system dysfunction.
Also, there is bone and muscle breakdown, fatigue, depression, pain, and memory impairments.
With this, we have completed the effects of stress on the immune system, I hope you loved reading it, do share it with your friends on whatsapp and Facebook to show your love.