Stress and Immune Response
No adult can boast of being completely stress free, at least not in the modern world with many things to worry about. Stress is described as that state where a person is under mental tension and is worried by the problems happening in life. This state of tension in a person’s mind has been found to be both harmful and beneficial to a person’s health. In some cases, stress is regarded as of much benefit; for example, the short anxiety state that a person experiences just before sitting for a test or attending an interview (Fink, 2010). This kind of stress is important because it helps a person face an otherwise difficult situation by boosting their alertness level and energy, hence enable them achieve better performance.
However, prolonged stress, also known as chronic stress, is bad and dangerous for both the physical and mental health of a person. When one is constantly worried about family issues or work-related problems, he is likely to develop chronic stress (Mak, & Saunders, 2006). Another form of chronic stress is known as post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to simply as PTSD. This condition may result when an individual witnesses a traumatic event or occurrence, for example an accident. It can also occur when a person is involved in traumatic situations such as being kidnapped or people being killed right before their eyes. The flight or fight response tends to last longer even after the situation is over.
Chronic stress affects many systems within a human body. The levels of corticosteroids and cortisol in the blood tend to rise with chronic stress, leading to long-term physical and mental damage (Fink, 2010). Chronic stress will weaken the immune system, making the body’s defense system very weak. Stress affects the normal functioning of tissues, organs, and cells of the immune system, hence hindering its ability to fight the pathogens, which cause infections and diseases in the body. Stress is known to affect immune system in two main ways: lowering the immunity and causing constant inflammatory conditions.
A high level of stress deregulates the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to autoimmune and infectious diseases. Cortisol is important because it helps to suppress inflammation when the body experiences stress; it is however dangerous when it lasts for long in the blood, as it makes the body to develop resistance towards it (Fink, 2010). The resistance leads to cortisol promoting the production of substances (cytokines) that are known to promote inflammation. The body therefore experiences chronic inflammation. Cytokines creates autoimmune condition in the body making it attack itself as it mistakes it for threat. The body therefore ends up with conditions such as lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Chronic stress leads to lowered protein content in the body, which is dangerous since protein is critical in activating other forms of immunity cells (Mak, & Saunders, 2006). With the lack of immune cells, the body remains vulnerable to acute illnesses and the healing periods become longer than normal. Long-term presence of corticosteroids and cortisol in the blood suppresses lymphocytes, which are responsible for destroying organisms that invade the body with potential of causing diseases to the body. Lymphocytes also help the body to fight harmful substances.
Although stress is unavoidable, people should look for better ways to manage it and never let it be chronic. Immune system is greatly affected by prolonged stress; hence, stress management must be given top priority. People with chronic health must seek professional help to avoid developing autoimmune conditions
Fink, G. (2010). Stress consequences: Mental, neuropsychological and socioeconomic. San Diego, C.A: Academic
Mak, T. W., & Saunders, M. E. (2006). The immune response: Basic and clinical principles. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic