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The Effects of Stress on Your Immunity

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Have you ever been really busy and stressed out at work, or life, booked a holiday to relax and spent the holiday sick?

Most people are familiar with this ol’ story. Research shows how stress really can lower your defences to infections. But there are some ways to minimise this happening to you.

Firstly lets clarify how different types of stress may affect your immunity.

Acute stress, the short sharp release of stress hormones as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, is what your body is naturally designed to handle. For example, you drop a cup that smashes:

· You get a fright

· You clean it up and have a big sigh, or take a big breath to slow your heart rate

· You move on with your day and your stress response settles down

This type of occasional, acute stress can actually be good for you. Now, this is not to say go and smash a cup to boost your immunity!!

The short and sharp increase in

stress hormones facilitate an immune response that tells different parts of your immune defence to be on high alert and ‘prepare for danger and get ready to fight invasion of pathogens’. And hoorah, your body can increase it’s antibacterial response.

Chronic stress, the longer lasting and/or excessive stress, creates imbalance through stress responses. For example, the cup you dropped was your colleagues favourite one of a kind cup, you dropped it rushing to put your lunch away because you were late to work sitting in traffic for an hour, late for the third time this w

eek because the day before you burned the pot making porridge for breakfast and had to stop the smoke alarms at home, and the day before that you overslept your alarm because you were up too many times through the night because the kids have colds and couldn’t sleep well with stuffy noses. You get a fright when the cup smashes

· You clean it up

· But you stay feeling ‘strung out’ or stressed as you try to start catching up on work, worried about what your Boss is going to say when you have your meeting later today.

· These compounding stressful events, despite not being life altering stressors, keep your stress response triggered over a long period of time.

· This leads to an imbalanced stress response that your body is not used to processing.

· Paves the way for an excessive immune response, tissue damage and breakdowns in barrier protections.

· You may be more vulnerable to viral infections.

· And then because you are stressed, maybe tired, and feeling a bit overwhelmed, you may make poor decisions for food and behaviours which make you more susceptible still to infection.

The tricky thing is, these stressors don’t need to be catastrophic, just perceiving them as stressful can upset the balance in your body.

So what do we do about that?

Glad you are asking, as this is one of the things we love about herbal medicine and naturopathy! The remedies we use to ‘build you up’ for winter or when you’re run down have many actions and synergistic effects. There is not a one size fits all approach, but we specialise in listening to what is happening for you and matching you with support to allow your body to maintain (or regain) optimal health.

In the meantime, get as much good rest and sleep as you need (or possibly can). Eat plenty of variety and colour of fresh plant foods. Move your body – walk, dance, yoga – do things you like.

We would love to journey with you back to health. Whether you're new to Olea Health or an existing patient, we're here to support you!

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