What you need to know about your immune system

There are a number of different ways that humans can be stressed. Physically it might come from injury, disease, surgery or even just being in extreme heat or cold. Psychological stressors may include any situation where demands are made that either threaten or do exceed their capacity to cope.

Under these circumstances, the stress response kicks in to give us adrenaline and more energy to cope. Our nervous system will switch over for survival priorities to kick in.

Once a major stressor is identified, within just twenty to thirty seconds the sympathetic nervous system will be activated. This will stay in place for around 1 hour. During this time, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis will also kick into operation. Although this can take longer to start up, it’s effects can last for weeks. It’s the HPA axis that releases the stress hormone known as cortisol.

The primary purpose of cortisol is to ensure that the energy stored in the body is ready for immediate use.

The downside of cortisol is that it will stop white blood cells in their tracks and change their distribution and movement. It can also block the production of new lymphocytes being produced in the thymus and even cause the destruction of them.

Just as with other animals, once we are faced with a serious threat, our thinking is restricted to escape strategies. We are focused on either fear or anger and our spirit is down.

Unfortunately, humans will naturally go another step and instead of making a quick recovery as is seen in animals, they extend their defence. They will try to defend themselves against any blows to the ego and emotional pain in addition to physical pain.

Even a slightly off remark from a friend or a cool reception can trigger our defences. Adrenaline will shoot into our system, and our body is poisoned, as no physical response is required. This is what negatively affects the immune system.

There are ways to learn how to put a hold on this. If you’re looking to have less stress in your life, make an appointment with me or another counsellor/change agent. We can teach you how to stop stress from affecting your immune system.

If you would like to delve deeper and learn more trusted tools and techniques on how to reduce stress and feel more confident so that you can live your best life, I am holding a workshop on 22 September at The Centre.  Find out more here.

Charles Whitaker

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