Stress is a normal part of modern daily life, but most people are not aware of the negative consequences of stress on their immune system, until they have symptoms. .

Some people are able to cope with stress better than others, and are able to take practical steps to reduce their stress each day, to diminish its effect on their bodies and minds.

However, most of us are not aware of how much stress is affecting our health until we are diagnosed with a serious illness, like heart disease, and then we’re told we need to make drastic changes to our lifestyle if we want to improve health outcomes.

So what exactly is stress?

Stress is the body and mind’s response to any unusual event or situation that challenges us and makes us feel under pressure in some way.

The body’s response can take different forms, for example there can be a release of “adrenaline” or epinephrine, which causes a burst of energy in order to have a “fight or flight” response.  It can also lead to more clear thinking or problem solving, improved strength or endurance.

Stress is a part of life, from birth, through navigating the world as a child, school stressors, social stressors, possible stress from abuse or neglect. We continue to navigate stress into adulthood, with relationship, job, financial or family stressors. Some people experience trauma, that can lead to more extreme experiences of stress.

Both acute and chronic stress can take its toll on the body.  Whether you just experienced something very frightening or were injured unexpectedly, or are “burning the candle at both ends” to try to keep up with all of the daily demands, your stress response system can be affected. This can lead to a lack of sleep, not enough “downtime” or relaxation to help recharge or heal the body and mind, and ultimately lead to a weakened immune system.

It’s not uncommon for people to get sick after a stressful experience, for example, often people come down with a cold or flu right after taking final exams. This is partially because our adrenal glands produce cortisol as a response to chronic stress, and this hormone can suppress the immune system, leaving you susceptible to a cold virus.  It is also possible for stress to triggers excessive inflammation, that may affect cardiovascular health or hormonal health, either due to poor sleep, poor diet during stress, or other dysregulation of the immune system.

There are many ways to reduce stress effectively, from yoga to meditation, tai chi to a warm, relaxing bath, a good night’s sleep to spending quality time with friends and family.  There may also be nutrients or other targeted supplements to improve sleep and modulate the stress response that may be beneficial to your circumstances.

If you have been overworking, it’s time to make some new appointments on your calendar with yourself in order to reduce stress, add exercise and sleep to your daily routine, and care better for yourself even as you boost your immune system.