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Protect Your Health! How Worry, Anxiety and Depression Impact Your Immunity

Does Immunity Matter?

The conversation around immunity is a big one right now. You've probably heard countless discussions related to herd immunity, vaccines, immune boosts, and all sorts of other things. The coronavirus has re-opened the conversation about immunity.

It has also re-opened the conversation about Mental Health, or more to the point - worry, depression, and anxiety. With the global community in the same boat, fighting the same virus, and many people under pressure to balance work (whether from home or otherwise), homeschooled children, and stay safe, we are all feeling the impact of worry, depression, and anxiety. Here's the thing... with a spike in all of this stress, our immune system is working harder than ever before, and this is not normal!

When your immunity is low you are more susceptible to every illness going around and that includes COVID-19. This is why it is of the utmost importance to you that you understand how worry, depression, and anxiety impact your immune health and more importantly, for you to know what you can do about it.

Worry, Depression, Anxiety

Your immunity is closely linked to your stress level, which includes worry, depression, and anxiety as they all feed off of each other. The big question is WHY?

Your immune system has one major job: it serves as your body's first line of defense against viruses, bacteria, germs, etc...Your health depends on it! Your immune system is always on guard, waiting for invaders to appear to attack them as quickly and efficiently as possible to ensure they will not damage your health.

What the coronavirus has done, which is positive, is highlight the need for hygiene. It has made all of us more mindful of how often we touch our faces and how often we pick up objects that others have touched. The cold virus can live on coffee mugs, pens, computers, and many more objects for hours!

The flu virus can linger on money for weeks! So think about how dangerous an office is to someone immune-compromised or who has diminished immunity? This is why it's important to use hand sanitizer, this is why you should wash your hands as frequently as possible. As impeccable as your hygiene is though, if you're under stress and trying to cope with worry, anxiety, or depression, then you are most definitely fighting a losing battle!

Worry, anxiety, and depression all weaken immunity, so your body struggles to deal with viral invasions, which leaves you even more vulnerable to illness and infection.

There is an additional problem in that your recovery can be slowed down by worry, anxiety, and depression. Your immune system is too busy dealing with the stress your body is currently under that it can't send the resources to deal with this new invasion. Your body is essentially at war with itself and you're the fall guy!

In a perfect world, once the threat passes, your cortisol and adrenaline levels drop, your heart rate returns to baseline, your blood pressure normalizes, and everything goes back to normal.

Your Stress Response System is Self-Limiting or at Least it Should Be!

When anxiety, depression, or worry are present, you are constantly being plummeted into the fight or flight response. This reaction remains in the "ON" position and your body is getting bombarded with stress hormones. So, how does your immune system cope? It can't. It is unable to respond the way it should and instead, it becomes inflamed, leading to other health issues related to inflammation.

There's another big issue when you're dealing with anxiety, depression, and worry. Your coping strategies! How do you respond to stress? Do you eat your emotions? Do you drink more alcohol? Do you smoke more cigarettes (or pick up a long-forgotten smoking habit)? Do you live on caffeine and junk food, just trying to get through a tough time?

We are all guilty of resorting to the most unhealthy coping strategies available to us because those strategies provide us with instant relief. Unfortunately, they complicate issues in the long run. Not only can they contribute to illness and other lifestyle diseases, but it makes the initial problem even worse!

Tonight, that third glass of wine might have helped you forget that presentation that is due next week, but tomorrow morning you still have that presentation to deal with.

Stress feeds worry, anxiety, and depression! Worry, anxiety, and depression feed stress!

It is difficult to break free from a vicious cycle that feeds the way it does. Studies have shown that stress wreaks havoc on immunity, making you more likely to develop illnesses. In one study, scientists polled almost 200 participants, they were asked about their stress levels over the preceding 12 months and then given drops of the "cold virus".

The participants who had reported being under stress in the last 12 months were twice as likely to catch a cold after being given the virus. In a second study, scientists were able to confirm that stress encourages the body's inflammatory response.

So, in the short term, worry, anxiety, and depression increase your heart rate and breathing. It's a physical response, one that is supposed to prepare you to deal with an intense event or situation.

Your blood flow is concentrated in your brain because that's where your body believes it is needed most. This is a positive reaction if you are facing danger. However, if it continues you may start to feel nauseous and lightheaded. If anxiety, worry, and depression become a persistent state of living for you, then it can (and will) take a toll on both your physical and mental health.

Sadly, this can happen to us at any age and any stage of life. However, it does usually occur by middle age and, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, women are more likely to receive an anxiety disorder diagnosis.

Keep in mind, there is more than one type of anxiety. Generally, when people discuss anxiety, they are specifically referencing GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It is one of the most common anxiety disorders, affecting almost 7 million (adult) Americans annually. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it is "excess anxiety for no apparent or logical reason". It is diagnosed after someone experiences extreme worry for six months or more.

In addition to GAD, there is Social Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, OCB, Phobias, and Panic Disorders. All of them create both physical and mental symptoms and barriers to enjoying a normal life.

Your Central Nervous System

If you suffer from worry, anxiety, or depression for a long period then your body and brain are being exposed to stress hormones regularly, which increase the likelihood of depression, headaches, and lightheadedness.

If you suffer from worry, anxiety, or depression for a long time, then your body and brain are being exposed to stress hormones regularly, increasing the likelihood of depression headaches, and lightheadedness.

When you're feeling stressed out and anxious, your body floods your central nervous system with chemicals and hormones designed to help you deal with threats. The two best examples of this are cortisol and adrenaline.

As we said earlier, these are helpful when you are faced with a genuine threat and are helpful in the short term. The problem happens when your body is faced with long-term exposure. While there are many symptoms related to this, one of the big ones is weight gain, which can lead to its own negative health effects.

Your Digestive System

Worry and anxiety can also influence your digestive system. It can lead to symptoms of stomachache, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and related digestive problems. It can also result in loss of appetite. It is theorized that there could be a connection between irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety disorders. IBS can present with diarrhea or constipation, as well as stomach aches, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.

Your Respiratory System

Worry, anxiety, and depression can result in shallow, rapid breathing. This increased the risk of hospitalization for those with existing respiratory issues including asthma and CO{D. In addition, anxiety often complicates existing illnesses.

Your Immune System

As we have already discussed, worry, anxiety, and depression can trigger your body's fight or flight response, releasing a flood of adrenaline and cortisol. While this causes an increased pulse and impacts your breathing, in the short term, this is beneficial because your body is ensuring your brain gets what it needs to deal with what's about to come. You may even enjoy a brief immunity boost in this type of situation.

Your body should return to normal once the worry, anxiety, or stress passes. Unfortunately, many of us get trapped in the fight or flight cycle. This cycle is difficult to break and weakens your immunity.

Other Issues

The symptoms we've already discussed aren't the only outcome, you may also experience muscle tension, social anxiety, headaches, sadness, nightmares, and insomnia. All of these combined contribute to feelings of worry, anxiety, and depression. It is incredibly difficult to break out of this vicious cycle without help.

Signs of Low Immunity

How do you know where your immunity sits? Low immunity is the term that we use to describe a poor-performing, underactive immune system. This might be due to stress or other lifestyle factors, but it can also be due to other illnesses. Regardless, it leaves your body unable to fight infections and diseases the way it should.

There are signs of low immunity that you can look out for. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, then you might want to review your worry, depression, and anxiety levels.

  • Do you catch every cold that passes your way?

  • Do you fight off more than two colds annually?

  • Do you suffer from a chronic infection?

  • Do you often have sore or swollen glands?

If you suffer from chronic (or recurrent) infections, even if they are mild, they do so when your immune system is weak or low. Once your immunity has been weakened it makes it difficult to overcome. It's that vicious cycle we are talking about.

It's difficult to break out of it when everything in your life is pushing you further into that cycle. Low immunity gives rise to infections, infections give rise to immunity damage, which leads to even lower immunity. So, one of the biggest factors in getting on top of your immunity and fighting illness is learning effective stress management.

Subscribe to our blog and get notified of future blogs on effective stress management tools, as well as a wealth of information about skincare as we age, the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms, and much more.

Thanks, Deb Seely, RN


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