If there ever was a “golden age” of stress and anxiety, it probably began in March 2020. No matter where you stand on all that’s happened, you’ve likely been and are still very stressed from the effects of COVID-19 and the other issues we’ve experienced. A global health crisis combined with political division and social unrest is enough to rattle any population. People are palpably anxious but what else is going on in a more under-the-surface kind of way?

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Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your immune system. The results of this are not always immediate or obvious. In a time with multiple crises, it’s become essential to learn more about the connections between anxiety, stress and your immune function.

5 Ways Stress and Anxiety Wreak Havoc on Your Immune System 

1. Fewer Natural “Killer Cells” Linked to Stress and Decreased Immunity

As far back as the 1980s, researchers began to notice a link between stress and decreased immunity. For example, in one study, college students engaged in a three-day exam period displayed weakened immunity — year after year. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that the students in question had fewer natural “killer cells.” These immune system cells are designed to fight viral infections and tumors. Take-home message: The more chronic stress is, the worse its impact on your overall health.

2. Cortisol – The Stress Hormone

Cortisol is a powerful stress hormone. The body produces more of it in times of crisis. Cortisol, in short bursts, can effectively increase your ability to deal with a threat or danger. In instances of ongoing anxiety, however, cortisol suppresses your body’s T-cells and white blood cells. This makes it much more difficult for your immune system to fight off infections and germs, so the odds of you getting sick during times of stress are much higher.

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3. The Allergy Connection to Anxiety

According to The Ohio State University, research suggests links between allergies and mental health, which can lead to a weakened immune system. The connection isn’t entirely clear, but allergies are a type of inflammation which may have an effect on the brain and mental health – specifically anxiety and depression. It’s important to treat both the allergy and mental health symptoms to experience relief and long-term benefits because if left untreated, your immune system weakens.

4. Self-Medication to Cope with Stress & Anxiety

When we’re stressed, anxious or depressed, it can often lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Alcohol use, smoking, and substance abuse are three examples of such self-medication. All of these activities have the potential to compromise your immune system and lead to an unhealthy cycle. Your compromised immunity leads to more anxiety which leads to more unhealthy coping mechanisms.

5. Elevated Blood Pressure from Stress

Stress puts strain on your circulatory system, e.g.

  • Elevated blood pressure and hypertension
  • Increased blood cholesterol levels
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blood clotting
  • Occlusion of the arteries

Each of the above signs is dangerous on its own. Collectively, they put undue stress on your immune system and severely compromise its integrity.

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It’s possible that reading all of the above feels like it’s added to your stress load. But there’s great power in such knowledge. Understanding the scope of anxiety’s impact can empower you to tackle the problem at its roots. The first step in addressing the above five realities is to get help with your anxiety disorder.

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There are countless treatment options. This path to recovery usually begins with a call to a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety. Connecting with a mental health professional puts you in the ideal position to break down the cause-and-effect of your situation. Working to heal your anxiety symptoms with the guidance of a seasoned therapist will have the added benefit of fortifying your immune system.

If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, help is available. Please reach out and contact Blue Boat Counseling today for an appointment with one of our Columbus therapists. You can live a more relaxed and healthy life, and we’re here to help you do that.