How Stress Affects The Immune System

People now know that stress can have an effect on the body. Most importantly, stress can greatly affect a person’s immune system. It can either boost it up or can suppress it. Here are some facts that you should know how stress can affect the human immune system.

Short term stress can boost the immune system

True, there are instances that short term stress may be able to boost the body’s immune response. Short term stress may prompt the body to go into the fight or flight mode. This type of action can prepare the immune system from possible infections as well as other situations that may do damage to the body. This gives the body a chance to adapt and may prove to be beneficial.

Long term stress suppresses the immune system

Although stress for the short term may have some beneficial effects to the immune system, the longer that it persists can lead to a chronic and long term problem. By this time, stress may no longer be of help to the immune system as it begins to suppress and respond more negatively to the circumstances at hand.

At first, the effects of long term stress may affect the body at the cellular level. As the body begins to realize that it can no longer adapt to the changes as was possible for the short term stress, it begins to affect the body in a negative way. The immune system functions begin to drop, probably realizing that it is fighting a losing battle due to long term chronic stress.

Types of stress

How stress may affect the immune system may also depend on the type of stress that one experiences. This is because the immune system may respond differently to various stressors. These stressors may bring about either short term or long term stress to a person. People can experience short term stress while reacting to an acute time limited stressor, a brief naturalistic stressor or during stressful event sequences.

Acute time-limited stressors – A person can experience acute time limited stress such as those when speaking in public or doing mental math.

Brief naturalistic stressors – An example of a brief naturalistic stressor is one that a person goes through when taking a written test. Stressful event sequences can be a focal event such as experiencing a natural disaster or a loss of a loved one. Such events bring about a number of related challenges that people know would end at some point in time.

Chronic stressors – Chronic stressors that can cause long term stress that can affect the immune system in a negative way. These chronic stressors can force people to restructure their identity as well as social roles in life without the idea on when it will end. 

Traumatic events – Such stress can come from experiencing living in a war-torn country or permanent disability due to an injury. Long term stress can also be brought about by distant stressors which can be traumatic events that happened in the past yet continue to affect the immune system due to their long-lasting emotional and mental consequences. They can come as a result of child abuse, rape, and traumatic events brought about by war.