A panel of experts speaking at Experimental Biology 2004 reports on new understandings of the mechanisms and pathways through which the body’s hormonal response to stress changes immune system function and impacts vulnerability, onset and exacerbation of mental and physical diseases, including atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, depression, contagious diseases, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Stress may be defined as “a state of physiological imbalance resulting from the difference between situational demand and the person’s capability to meet those demands”.

Stress can be good or bad. Stress can be good when the situation offers an opportunity for an individual to gain something. It acts as a inspiration for peak performance. Stress can be adverse when an individual encounters social, actual, business and emotional problems

A little bit of stress is good. Short-term pressure, gives us the energy, speed, and concentration necessary to get out of difficult situations. Extended pressure, however, is not something our body is meant to cope with. One part of the body that is particularly vulnerable to the effects of serious pressure is the immune system.

The immune system is comprised of a group of specialized tissues and necessary proteins whose primary function is to keep international creatures and things out of the body system. The immune system arranges its activities based on how much and what areas of it are needed. Cortisol, in particular, can affect this organization, resulting in the withdrawal of some areas of the immune system while allowing others to run widespread.

One of the more powerful cell types of the immune system is the T cell. While there are several variants of this cell, they are all responsible for dictating the attack against foreign organisms. Cortisol has a suppressive effect on T cells, resulting in immune responses to certain airborne viruses and bacteria to proceed more slowly. This is why scholars are most vulnerable to infections during the week of final examinations.

Another immune cell affected by stress is the neutrophil. A type of white blood cell, neutrophils are like the work horses of the immune system; they’re constantly on the look-out for locations of infection where they immerse and kill foreign contaminants and harmful bacteria. Chronic stress allows the rate of neutrophils to lymphocytes (e.g. T cells) to become unbalanced. As a result, potentially harmful inflammation is allowed to remain unchecked, resulting in injury and pain.

When stress is excessive, prolonged and serious, it actually breaks down our body’s defense mechanism and leaves us open and vulnerable to disease and illness. You may find that you get cold more often, or you come down with the flu.

If your stress levels remain high, you may end up with a serious illness, like cardiovascular condition or melanoma. The quality, intensity and length of the stress, all determine the impact, the stress will have on your body.

But, there is another factor. Some people can manage a lot of pressure without consequences–while others get sick, even when their stresses are not that bad.
What’s the difference? It seems that your capability to cope up with pressure and rest are even more important than the level of your pressure. How pressure impacts the immune system is definitely dependent on your capability to relax and manage pressure & anxiety.

Stress and the immune system are definitely connected. So, it is practical to learn how to handle stress so that you will not have to deal with sickness, condition or even auto-immune diseases:

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