Dr Travis Horne
How Stress and Fear Affect the Immune System
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s life. As we approach the holidays, we know it won’t be the same, and many of us regret not being able to follow traditions. After many months of uncertainty, avoiding socialization with our friends and family, finding ways to manage work and kids at home, having to care for kids away from family, lack of fresh air, deal with life changing news, fear and anxiety about going out and getting covid and the economic crisis have led to a globally increased psychosocial distress. Although, there are many factors that contribute to increased risk of infections and illness, one of the factors that is often under looked is psychosocial factors such as stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness and depression.
The field of psychoimmunology has shown that psychosocial distress is a risk factor to disease onset and progression and the complex factors that determine pathogen exposure outcome. Fear and extreme worry can impact our immune system almost immediately. When we are in a constant fear response, our immune systems are compromised because vital resources and energy are being channeled to mobilize a fight or flight response. Stress and anxiety also have a tremendous effect on our sleep. Lack of adequate sleep can decrease one’s immune system and contribute to inflammation.
The nervous system and immune system are in communication with each other. Stress, excess worry, loneliness, anxiety and depression are associated with increased susceptibility to viral upper respiratory infections. Viruses use the same receptors as neuropeptides to enter into a cell, and depending on how much of the natural peptide for a particular receptor is around and available to bind. Because the molecules of emotion are involved in the process of a virus entering the cell, the state of our emotions can affect whether or not we give in to viral infection.
In this day and age, most people are constantly connected to television, social media and our phones. Technology often keeps us in a state of hyper alertness and cortisol driven responses. When we are in such a state, we feel powerless and vulnerable. Taking time away from technology can help us be more in control of our emotions, and therefore enforce our immune system.
Being healthy physically, mentally and emotionally has never been so important. Aside from eating nutritious foods, getting adequate sleep and exercising, our psychosocial is also extremely important for our immune system. In order to maintain optimal immune functions, psychological factors must be addressed. It is our true nature that we can heal ourselves. We cannot allow fear and anxiety to take over us and continue to put us into the prolonged fight and flight mode. Positive emotions buffer stressors. It’s important to remain positive, remember to laugh, maintain hope and optimism to support a strong immunity. Forgiveness and building strong emotional connections can promote healing. Exercise is a great way to manage stress and improve sleep. Other great ways to overcome psychosocial stressors is to open up for gratitude, spirituality and your connection to yourself.
Our clinic offers chiropractic adjustments in Johnstown, PA that can help release tension which relaxes the body and increases blood circulation. In addition, such benefits can soothe the fight or flight response. We also offer herbal, vitamin, minerals and homeopathic support to manage stress. Common adaptogenic herbs may include rhodiola, ashwagandha, lemon balm and astragalus. Supplements that often help with psychological distress are B vitamins and essential fatty acids.