Wellness – Stress’ Affect on Our Immune System

Positive & Negative Effects of Stress

Stress affects our immune system both positively and negatively. Studies show that stress can suppress the immune system; on the other hand, small amounts of stress can actually be beneficial and even boost your immune system. A July 2004 analysis of 293 studies conducted over the past 30 years revealed an interesting trend in stress. The psychologists Suzanne Segerstrom, Ph.D., and Gregory Miller, Ph.D. discovered that stress can affect our immune system in powerful ways. Short term stressors help boost the immune system while long-term, chronic stressors suppress it.


How Long-Term Stress Affects Us

Long-term stress can shift the immune system away from its adaptive changes such as the “flight or fight” response to more negative changes. These changes first occur at the cellular level, but will later spread to broader immune functions. Studies have shown that the most chronic stressors, stress that appear beyond an individual’s control, resulted in the most global suppression of immunity. The elderly or individuals already suffering from illness are more likely to succumb to stress-related changes.


Stressors come in several different types including, but not limited to the following:

  • Acute time-limited stressors
  • Brief naturalistic stressors
  • Stressful event sequences
  • Chronic stressors
  • Distant stressors


Natural & Specific Immunity

Two kinds of immunity exist: natural and specific. Natural immunity acts quickly creating all-purpose cells that attack many pathogens that result in fever and inflammation. Specific immunity responds to more specific invaders like viruses inside the cells and bacteria and parasites outside the cells.

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