How Mental Health Affects Your Immune System
Mental health, emotional wellness and mental wellness are all terms you may have seen more and more of over time. Once a stigma that was rarely addressed in conversation is now a topic of interest for many people across the globe.
Mental wellness is something that can impact several biological functions. From heightened cortisol levels that can lead to increased heart rate to negative mood that can cause bodily fatigue, the health of our minds is showing to be crucial for general wellness.
While we may be more aware of temporary physiological changes when we undergo stress, (like sweaty palms when we’re nervous) effects on larger systems that can last longer are also something to look out for. More and more studies suggest that mental health and emotional stress can challenge the immune system.
Stress and the Immune System
While short-term stress is actually a benefit that helps our mind and body deal with challenges, long-term stress can be demanding on our health. During stressful situations, our body releases cortisol, a stress hormone that impacts heart rate, breathing, metabolism and more.1
Stress can impact both our innate and adaptive immune responses. Our innate immune system is our first line of defense—it protects against general pathogens and acts more quickly than our adaptive response. Our adaptive immune response targets specific pathogens but takes more time to recognize these foreign bodies and tries to create “memory” cells so that it can be quicker if it encounters that specific foreign body again.2
Long-term stress can suppress these immune responses, making us more susceptible to harmful pathogens and slowing our ability to fight back against them and making recovery more difficult.3 Furthermore, frequent feelings of anxiousness put similar stress on the body as it can develop a sort of “resistance” to cortisol which can cause adverse effects like increased cytokine production and excessive blood flow to certain areas.4
Staying mindful of your stress levels and managing that stress is imperative for a healthy immune system. While we can’t avoid stressful situations in our everyday life, taking mental notes of how you’re feeling and exercising proper self-care is a great way to ensure your body and mind can recover.
Mood and the Immune System
A balanced mood does more than just make or break our day. Like stress, mood can also be affected by cortisol levels. Constant exposure to this stress hormone can cause us to feel down and fatigued and can influence our outlook on life—and vice-versa.
An impacted mood is also thought to slow our adaptive immune response, specifically within thyroid cells T3 and T4 and their interactions with lymphocytes to activate this response.5 A study at Penn State University suggests that inflammatory biomarkers in our blood can become exacerbated when we experience a negative mood like sadness or anger.6
To keep our immune response from getting sluggish, finding hobbies that bring us joy or finding gratitude throughout the day are a couple small ways to ensure a healthy mood that leads to a healthy immune system.
Signs of a Challenged Immune System
If you’re wondering what to look for to keep your immune health in tip-top shape, these are some common signs that it could use some care.
- Frequent feelings of exhaustion or fatigue
- Occasional stomach or GI discomfort
- It takes a long time for you to bounce back from feeling under the weather
- Gradual healing
- Experiencing high levels of stress
Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
Mental health isn’t a one-size-fits all approach, but a key takeaway is to find things that bring you joy or help you feel at ease. Here are a few ideas to get started, but don’t be afraid to try something new that sounds relaxing or exciting to you.
- Check in with how you’re feeling every day and allow yourself time to recover
- Settle your mind before bed by reading a book or taking a warm bath
- Look for vitamins that can help support stress or mood
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day, the endorphins will do your mind some good
- Stay social—talking to loved ones helps us feel a sense of community which we all need
- Go outside, being outdoors with natural light has been shown to increase serotonin
- Find your creature comfort, it can be a warm drink, a crossword puzzle or a favorite song
The first step toward managing your mental health is to acknowledge it. Once you pull your mental wellness off the back burner, you’re more likely to recognize when you’re feeling off and can better take care of both your mind and body.
Always serving our customers,
Your friends at Swanson
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Stress. Cleveland Clinic Read source
- The Innate and Adaptive Immune Systems. National Library of Medicine. Read source
- Effects of Stress on the Immune System. National Library of Medicine. Read source
- Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. National Library of Medicine. Read source
- Mood and the Immune System. PLOS One. Read source
- Negative and Positive Effect. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Read source