How Does Stress Affect Immune System

Do you think this fast pace of life has crippled you, not just physically but mentally as well? Maybe it’s a sign your brain is trying to give you, to protect you. The immune system acts as body defence for any foreign particles and is composed of various cells, tissues and organs that interact with each other and ultimately gives protection to our body. Have you ever noticed when you are stressed, your body acts differently, maybe it is as subtle as sweating, mild headache, nausea and then there is a different spectrum where your thoughts are jumbled, your anxiety shoots up and the panic which builds makes it impossible to function.


Temporary stress like exams or a deadline coming up can affect cellular immunity while having no impact on humoural immunity. But stresses which are chronic have an impact on both immunities. Over the past 30 years, numerous studies have been done on stress and the immune system of humans which proves that psychological challenges can be the reason how our immune system reacts. Psychoneuroimmunology has shown that one’s state of mind affects their health. The more we try to avoid stress, the more it surrounds us. It has been proved that stress often leads to eating disorders like overeating, anorexia and bulimia too.

During times of stress, adrenal glands pump catecholamines ( epinephrine and norepinephrine) , and your adrenal cortex sends out stress hormones – cortisol (glucocorticoid) which kicks in flight or fight mode. Just for a minute imagine you are walking alone and you see someone following you, how do you feel? Blood rushing, heart racing and you run as fast as you can, maybe at a speed you never thought you could and you realize you have escaped. It’s rightly said cortisol indeed is a life saving hormone. But what happens when there is no one to run from but the feeling persists sweating, racing, rushing, it is destructive to say the least.


In the early 1980s, psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, and immunologist Ronald Glaser, PhD, of the Ohio State University College of Medicine, were fascinated by animal studies that showed relation between stress and illness. From the year 1982 to 1992, these frontiers examined medical students. They observed that students’ immunity went down every year during the period of exam days.

  •  During this time, they found that the count of natural killer cells decreased (Natural killer cells are non phagocytic granular lymphocyte cells. It kills virus infected cells and tumour cells of the body by creating perforin lined pores in infected cells).
  • They also stopped making immunity boosting cells like gamma interferons and disease battling cytotoxic T- cells.


Stress has been connected as a co- factor in 95% or all illness measures, a keystone of holistic, alternative health and healing is figuring out how to adequately handle stress. Stressors are mainly divided into four groups: psychological stress, physical stress, psychospiritual stress, and psychosocial stress.

  • Psychological stress: This stress is related to emotional and psychological reactions given when the person has to go through a situation which is beyond their coping capabilities. Examples are health or financial crisis.
  • Physical stress: This stress is connected with injury, fractures, infection, surgery or any other trauma.
  • Psychospiritual stress: This kind of stress is experienced when there is a crisis of ethics and morals, issues of life goals or spiritual alignment and general state of happiness.
  • Psychosocial stress: This stress is perceived by threat to our social stature, social esteem, acceptance within society or feeling of helplessness in society.


According to data of WHO, it has been estimated that around 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million Indians experience anxiety disorders. Too much stress induces both physical and emotional symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms are listed below:

  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Irritability and anger
  • Low sex drive
  • Lack of concentration
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Mood swings
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach or digestive issues
  • Insomnia as well as exhaustion
  • Panic attacks
  • And obviously, weakening of immune system
  • Chronic stress may cause
    • Usage of drugs
    • Gambling or smoking
    • Fatigue
    • Changes in appetite


Stress alone cannot be held responsible for all the infections, but it makes us vulnerable to get infected. Recovery rate also slows down when the body is dealing with any kind of stress. Stress is also associated with changes in the functioning of the immune system. The longer the stress prevails, greater is the reduction of lymphocytes i.e. white blood cells. It has been observed that interpersonal stress (like divorce) has different immune system reactions as compared to stress due to exams or deadlines or unemployment. With more anxiety, the less antibody is produced after exposure to the potentially harmful substance.

     Hormones other than cortisol and catecholamines, released during stress are growth hormone, prolactin, and the natural opiates (beta endorphin and enkephalin) have been implicated in influencing the immune system. There are few indirect ways too on how stress weakens our immune system. Suppose if you are suffering from insomnia, then you are more likely to get sick when exposed to antigens. Lack of sleep affects how fast you recover after getting sick.

Stress reduction and strengthening the immune system is therefore the only way to reduce the susceptibility to infections like flu, viral cold and more fatal diseases.


Amid this pandemic, it is essential for us to be healthy and strengthen our immune system. Stress weakens our immune system so here are few tips and tricks on how you can reduce stress and boost your immune system.

  • Meditation: Meditation brings inner peace and can produce a deep state of relaxation. According to a report of American Psychological Association, researchers inspected more than 200 studies of mindfulness among healthy individuals and found mindfulness-based therapy was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Healthy diet: Food can help maintain stress in several ways. There are some foods which cut down levels of cortisol and catecholamines like dark chocolate or tea. A healthy diet can help in boosting your immunity.
  • Exercise: It is just not a phrase that ” Healthy mind lives in the healthy body” but is applicable in real life too. Working out for 30- 40 minutes per day can even keep you away from illness.
  • Practice gratitude: The act of expressing gratitude or maintaining a gratitude journal can help in lowering of stress, better sleeping cycle, and stronger immunity. It gives positive insight to you for everything around you. Studies also show that thankful and grateful people experience better mental health and lower stress.
  • Reducing screen time: Social media can even cause anxiety and stress. Excessive time in front of screen has been found to increase risk of obesity, diabetes and sleep problems
  • Hobbies: Giving time to your hobbies can really help in keeping stress under control. There’s no specific criterion for hobbies, it could be anything like painting, cooking, baking, playing, reading, etc.
  • Spending time with your closed ones: One study found that for women in particular, spending time with children, friends and families can help release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever.
  • Try aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can help in reducing stress. Using essential oils, body products or scented candles can reduce anxiety and feel energized. There are certain scents like Lavender, lemongrass, etc which calm your brain.

These are few tricks for tackling stress. We hope that this helps you reduce stress in day to day life. It is also advisable to see a therapist if needed. These tricks often involve keeping your mind busy so that you don’t focus on the source of stress. These methods will help in maintaining the essential overall balance in your life.

Do share your views and experiences in the comments section below.

Stay tuned for many such informative insights on dynamic topics.



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