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

Vasectomy Clinic

A March Madness Shocker: It’s the Tallwood Vasectomy Clinic!

FARMINGTON – While you’re laid up on the couch recovering from your vasectomy, you may as well have something fun to watch, right? That seems to be the thought behind a craze dubbed “Vas Madness” in which doctors and healthcare systems see an increase in the number of vasectomy procedures...

Non-Proprietary Medicine pill Bottles

How to Dispose of Prescription Meds, Properly, Without Leaving the House

Here’s a great way to warm up for spring-cleaning season. Retrieve all unused prescription drugs from medicine cabinets, bathroom drawers and your keep-it-away-from-the-kids hiding spot in the kitchen. Wait! Don’t just drop them in the household trashcan. And avoid the convenience of the nearest toilet. The Food and Drug Administration...


Newington WWII Veteran Awarded French Knight of the Legion of Honor

More than seven decades after he served in World War II, John Faenza of Newington has received the highest possible military honor an American can receive from the French people. With his wife, children, friends and former co-workers by his side, the 93-year-old Cedar Mountain Commons resident was awarded an honorary...


Tallwood Men’s Health: Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States and worldwide. For the man who regularly consults with his doctor, however, heart disease and its potentially fatal consequences are usually avoidable. Dr. Waseem Chaudhry is a preventive cardiologist at the Hartford HealthCare Tallwood Men’s Health Center....


Tallwood Men’s Health: A Guy’s Medical Man Cave

The statistics say it all: Men are nearly one-and-a-half times as likely as women to die from almost every chronic medical condition. On average, men live five years less than women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But a new program at Hartford HealthCare has been designed to...