A brief explanation of the impact of stress on the immune system.

Stressors are a normal part of life. From an evolutionary perspective, adaptation to changes in the environment is required for survival. In a situation where there is a perception of stress, organisms—whether they are people, dogs, rodents or flies—are physiologically prepared to attack or flee from a threat. Those with effective fight or flight responses tend to survive long enough to reproduce, so every organism is descended from those who are genetically hardwired for self protection. When you experience stress, your biology, emotions, social support, motivation, environment, attitude, immune function, and state of wellness all feel the ripple effect.

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Imagine the fatal outcomes that might occur if the mind and body did not adapt to life’s stressors. For your cave-dwelling ancestors the result would be a very short life with little chance of passing on their genes to future generations.

Recall the encounter with the saber-toothed tiger discussed in the introduction to this course. Once the brain determines a threat exists per the cognitive appraisal process, the fight or flight response begins. In stress mode, your body goes under a variety of changes including but not limited to:

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • The release of cortisol and other stress hormones
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased release of adrenaline

When the fight or flight response is initiated numerous times a day, it results in a depletion of energy, resources, and maintenance abilities. While life preserving, the biological and physical stress responses are meant to be short-term. In addition, long-term stress may have an impact on your immune system. This is another one of the many different ways health can deteriorate. There are multiple techniques and behavioral interventions that might be used as part of an overall stress management strategy to reduce stress.

For this Discussion, review this week’s Learning Resources, including “The Body’s Micro-Response to Stress” handout. Consider the stress response to ongoing everyday stressors as presented in the Learning Resources. Imagine what might be necessary to reduce the response for these non-life threatening, long-term experiences. 

 

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