Stress, Anxiety and Your Immune System: How to Avoid Getting Sick

Stress and Anxiety
Print icon

You take a daily multivitamin, even a Vitamin C boost when you feel a sniffle, but avoiding something else in your life is a better way to improve your immunity.

“Stress and anxiety have a tremendous impact on our immune system,” said David Tolin, PhD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. “We know excess levels of stress produce hormonal changes that lower the body’s resistance to colds and other infections.”

There are different types of stress, though, and only one really wreaks havoc on our immune system, he said.

“Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing and we can withstand a great deal of it if we feel we can control it,” he said, referring to the anxiety of studying for a test or preparing for a major event. “It’s more the chronic or sudden and unpredictable stress that throws our bodies off.”

When we experience such stress – whether it’s the loss of a job or a personal tragedy – our body responds by sending defense signals to the endocrine system, which then triggers the release of various hormones designed to prepare the body for an emergency. In doing that, the hormones, particularly cortisol, also depresses the immune system. Increased levels of cortisol, in fact, can decrease white blood cells and inflammation, while increasing tumor development and growth and the overall rate of infection.

If you’re experiencing stress, ask yourself these questions and answer honestly. Answering yes to one or more may be a sign that your body is responding to that stress and you need to intervene.

  • Do you feel edgy and cranky, picking fights with family, friends or coworkers?
  • Are you feeling agitated all the time?
  • Is your stomach tied in knots?
  • Are your sleep patterns disrupted so you’re either sleeping too much or not enough?

There are various ways, Dr. Tolin continued, to address these physical symptoms of stress, including:

  • Taking periodic breaks from work to refresh yourself. Even short breaks are helpful.
  • Using meditation, controlled breathing or yoga as a way to decompress and relax. It’s even more helpful to make such a practice a regular part of your life to protect against the negative effect of stress.
  • Leading a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet.
  • Finding a counselor, trusted friend or therapy group to talk about your stresses and identify possible ways to manage them.

“That interpersonal connection can be key to overcoming stress and anxiety,” Dr. Tolin said. “And, By lowering the level of your physiological arousal to stress, you can boost the function of your immune system.”

For professional help coping with stress and anxiety at the Anxiety Disorders Center at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, click here.

 


What's New

Hoarding Study

Institute of Living Study: What Motivates a Hoarder?

To understand hoarding and cultivate a healthy mindset beyond the large-scale purging of piles and boxes of belongings, behavioral health clinicians must first understand what motivates the hoarder. Researchers with the Hartford HealthCare Institute of Living in Hartford will probe that motivation more closely as part of the new study “Emotional...

Opioids illustration

These Three Medications Are the Best Way To Fight Opioid Epidemic

Fentanyl, the super-potent synthetic opioid that dealers and distributors have introduced into the illicit drug stream, has complicated efforts nationwide to prevent opioid-overdose deaths. Fentanyl, inexpensive to manufacture in “basement labs,” is being added to opioids and cocaine to stretch supplies and boost the highs, according to Dr. J. Craig Allen,...

Suicide Prevention

IOL Sets Conference as Part of World Suicide Prevention Day

As American healthcare progresses on many fronts, trends around suicide remain alarming with the Centers for Disease Control saying the suicide rate is the highest it’s been since World War II. Consider these statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: In 2017, there were 13.42 suicides per 100,000 people....

Millennials' health

Why Are Millennials Less Healthy Than Gen Xers?

So often, people say “it’s an age thing,” but in the case of millennials, poor health may be directly related to their age, and their regular use of social media and electronic devices. According to a report issued as part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Association “Health of...

Jeffrey Flaks

Leadership Change at Hartford HealthCare

Hartford HealthCare has named Jeffrey A. Flaks its President and Chief Executive Officer, effective Sept. 1. Flaks succeeds Elliot Joseph, who has been Hartford HealthCare’s Chief Executive Officer since 2013. Joseph made the decision to retire after leading the organization for more than 10 years. “For several years, the Hartford...


Program Spreads Hope, Health and Healing for Abused Children and Teens

The eighth grader knew she needed to tell someone. She turned to her school guidance counselor and revealed her uncle had touched her inappropriately the night before. How could she go home? Several blocks away, a teen-aged girl was sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend. Traumatized, she would later tell...


More Screen Time? It’s Now Part of Teens’ Mental Health Treatment

By Dr. Paul Weigle Psychiatrist, Natchaug Hospital Contrary to what you may think, video games, social media and related digital technology can actually improve the mental health of our younger generation. This is not to say Little Johnny should be allowed to lock himself in the basement and play Fortnite around...