The influence of stress on the immune system: The immune system has two important tasks: First, it defends against invaders such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. The body has a self-learning capacity so that the next time an intruder can be dealt with more easily and effectively. You become immune to an intruder.
Secondly, it takes care of cleaning up and repair work in your body. This becomes more important as you get older. Not only in your body, but also in your brain.
We know stress is bad for your body. But do you know when it gets bad? In general, you notice the impacts of stress: you sweat more, you get stressed, you get scared or angry, your heart beats faster, etc. But we don’t notice that cells in the immune system react with changes in their activity.
An interesting study of the immune system
A number of healthy volunteers were asked to concentrate on two emotions: anger, or pity. Subsequently, the antibody (IgA) of the immune system was measured, which helps the body to resist intruders such as bacteria and viruses. The outcome was that those who concentrated for five minutes on an event that had made them angry, or frustrated them, the level of IgA rose, but then dropped significantly, and remained low for 5 hours.
But when the researched concentrated on a fine event, with characteristics such as compassion and caring, the IgA level rose and remained high for 6 hours.
This shows that the thoughts a person has (positive or negative) have a h2 influence on the body.
It is noteworthy that people who care for, or have cared for, a sick partner for a long period of time, heal wounds more slowly, remain sick longer and the overall resistance is low. The immune system is thus adversely affected when tension becomes uncontrollable.
Recovery of the immune system
Like our entire body, the immune system needs time to recover. This recovery is incredibly important: it has to happen. This will only succeed if you become calm again and can stabilise the hormonal system (adrenaline and cortisol).
The moment you don’t calm down, in case of chronic stress, you don’t recover, or too limited after stressful events. This is also the case with the recovery of physical wounds.
There was an investigation among students who were operated on their jaws. Half of them were sent on holiday after the examination, and the other half were put on learning for an upcoming examination week. What turned out to be? After 2 weeks the wound of the students who had been on holiday was almost healed, with the other students still having open wounds!
Read more: What are the symptoms of a burnout
Cortisol and recovery
Cortisol suppresses inflammation in the body. These inflammations are meant to clean up the mess. The body remains in a fight or flight mode, not in a recovery mode.
Characteristics of a high cortisol level are:
- Bad sleep
- High blood pressure
- Concentration problems
- Cardiovascular problems
- Allergic reactions
It is noteworthy that if someone has a ‘reduced resistance’, or ‘caught a cold’, there are often no direct physical causes (temperature does not cause a cold). However, there is a direct link between a malfunctioning immune system and chronic stress.
Exhausted immune system
Denying that you are tired, or suffering from an stressful event is killing for a well-functioning immune system. Especially when you deal defensively with stress, which mainly consists of avoiding, denying or suppressing emotions, this leads to a large and prolonged stress reaction.
Contrary to people who actively tackle problems: they barely show a stress reaction, both in their sympathetic nervous system (where the source of movement lies) and in the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Simply: Actively working on your problems leads to less stress, and a better immune system.
The influence of stress on the immune system
Prof. Dr. Cobi Heijnen, professor of pschychoneuroimmunology (University of Utrecht): ‘We do know that stress affects our bodies, but we don’t realize that when we get stressed, scared, frightened or angry, almost all cells in our body undergo a change. We notice that the heart beats faster, we get warm, but we don’t notice that cells of the immune system also react with changes in their activity’.
A h2 immune system
Recovering from stressful events (both mentally and physically) is crucial in order not to become chronically stressed, or even burn-out. A h2 immune system develops through sufficient rest and recovery, with the right nutrition and exercise. Is it then possible to be immune to everything? No, although your body is self-learning, which means that you build up a defence against the viruses, bacteria, fungi that your body has seen before, a complete defence is impossible. There are so many infections that it is impossible to resist everything.
Better resistance through less stress
When we talk about contractions, we mainly mean how well your body is able to resist infections. But in fact, it’s a function of our immune system. This immune system serves to protect us against external threats such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. Stress makes holes in your immune system. Stress creates a fighting or fleeing mode, where recovery is out of the question. To increase your resistance, recovery is incredibly important. Your body becomes ready to deal with the next intruder. People who do not do this are often sick, suffer from all kinds of ailments such as colds, inflammations, asthma, heart and vascular diseases etc.
After events, both mentally and physically, always ensure peace and quiet. This can be by sleeping, but also an active rest through relaxing activities in a pleasant environment provide rest, and thus recovery.
The amount of rest you need to recover varies per person. As far as sleep is concerned, 8 to 9 hours per night is recommended. In addition, it is important to listen carefully to your body:
- Do I feel like getting back to work?
- Will you be okay again? Or will it be difficult?
If you say ‘no’ to both questions, you probably haven’t recovered yet. Take your time, in the end rest will bring you more than just going back to work.
Healthy nutrition helps strengthen your immune system. A healthy and varied diet has a better effect than supplementing it with supplements.
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables provides the body with more than enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Along with sufficient water makes your body h2.
When wishing to lose weight, a crash diet is h2ly discouraged, especially when recovering from an event.
Therefore, first make sure you recover, and once you have recovered you can see if you can reduce your intake below your body’s consumption. In this way you will lose weight in a balanced way, without risks of relapse and illness.
Movement is important for the immune system to function effectively. Movement strengthens the heart and blood vessels. In addition, the cooperation between organs is h2ly dependent on movement. Studies show that good cooperation between the organs improves the body’s ability to kill bacteria earlier, and improves blood circulation.
However: too active sports lead to the production of more toxic substances such as cortisol and adrenaline. This puts pressure on the immune system instead of strengthening it. Healthy exercise is strengthening the body.
Intensive, not obsessive
This may be intensive, but not obsessive. Depending on the condition, active exercise is very healthy. As long as it does not cross borders, it strengthens the resistance.
Walking is a good exercise to stimulate the immune system. The outdoors, taking (large) steps, and possibly taking a backpack, take care of this. Take care (depending on the condition) for a moderate to firm pace, which you can maintain for a longer period of time. In this way you contribute to the blood circulation, which carries oxygen and nutrients through the body, and is thus able to dispose of waste products.
Training and coaching
Milltain provides training and coaching for private individuals and organisations. Our team consists of 35 coaches and trainers who have now helped thousands of people struggling with stress and burnouts.
Milltain for private individuals:
Are you stuck in life because of stress or a burnout? We developed an effective online programme that is fully focused on the complete recovery from a burnout. More than 2000 people have successfully completed this training!
Movement and nature play prominent roles in this training. Recovery is a process that contains peaks and troughs, and that’s something we know all about. Our highly experienced coaches provide you with active support.
Learn more: Stress and burnout coaching
Milltain for organisations:
With the help of a team of experienced trainers, Milltain supports organisations in the prevention of stress and the (re) finding of work happiness in the workplace. A single burnout can easily cost an organisation € 70,000 (or more!)
In addition to financial suffering, the human suffering is great. Not only for the employee but also for close colleagues who have to deal with the blows. Before long, you find yourself in a negative vicious circle.
Get long-term absence and stress among employees under control with the help of our highly effective team training via Zoom or a similar tool.
This training has proven to be an international success for both managers (leadership skills) and employees (dealing with stress).
Learn more: Online team training