Here's How Stress Affects Your Immune System, According to Doctors

Your stress levels and your overall well-being are more intertwined than you think.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to overtake the country, folks are doing whatever they can to stay healthy, from staying home to sanitizing everything they touch throughout the day. However, there's one essential component of that coronavirus safety routine that gets overlooked all too often: your stress levels. If you've ever noticed that you tend to fall ill when you're stressed out, you're not imagining things. In fact, a 2015 study published in Current Opinions in Psychology revealed that chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on a person's immune system. But how does stress affect your immune system exactly?

Well, according to psychiatrist Jared Heathman, MD, stress raises the amount of the hormone cortisol in a person's bloodstream, which can result in a weakened immune system.

The stress-related cortisol imbalances prompt an uptick in glucose production, which "causes a situation where the [immune system] assassins are overwhelmed… [causing] a delay in the assassins killing the bugs that make us sick," explains Hans Watson, DO, a psychiatrist at University Elite PLLC. Similarly, low bloodstream glucose levels deprive the immune system of adequate nutrition, "so the person stays sick longer than normal," explains Watson.

However, that's not the only way stress can make you vulnerable to illness and infection. Heathman notes that since stress can lead to insomnia, that also weakens the immune system over time.

The good news? Even in a crisis, you can still limit your stress levels, keep your immune system healthy, and reduce your likelihood of getting sick. Heathman recommends "participating in relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and visualization techniques."

He also suggests exercising to help strengthen your immune system—in fact, according to a 2014 meta-analysis published in the Korean Journal of Family Medicine, individuals who exercised regularly were less likely to come down with colds than their more sedentary counterparts.

So wash your hands, get moving, and try to enjoy a few minutes of mindfulness whenever possible—it might just help you in the battle against COVID-19.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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