Physiological responses to stress include immunological responses. The immune system differentiates between self and nonself, so that under normal conditions the body does not treat one's own cells as threats, in the way that the immune system treats bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins.
Typically the immune system reconizes bacteria as a threat and attacks them. An antigen on the surgace of the bacteria cells identifies the bacteria as invaders. After being exposed to a particular antigen, the immune system remembers how to respond to that antigen and prepares to respond with anitbodies when the same antigen appears at a later time.
However, a virus sometimes creates an antigen very similar to a naturally occuring protein and the immune system attacks as if it were a threat. Problems occur when the immune system misinterprets antigens and responds too strongly, leading to an autoimmune illness.
The mechanisms through which stress affects the immune system are unclear. A prolongedj state of stress causes disease. Stress makes people ill as a result of:
1) increased levels of powerful hormones that change our bodily processes;
2) coping choices that are unhealthy, such as not getting enough rest or a proper diet or use of tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, or other substances; and
3) neglect of warning signs of illness or failure to adhere to prescribed medications or treatments.
So how can you avoid illness related to stress? When you know you are about to be faced with a stressful situation, or when you first realize you are stressed, make a point to avoid things that will further tax your body, such as excessive caffeine, alcohol or drugs.
Also avoid things like prolonged sun exposure, dehydration, etc., anything that puts your body under duress. Then, make a point to get some extra Zzzz's if at all possible. Use a natural sleep aid such as melatonin (0.3-1 mg, 1-2 hrs before bedtime) if the stress is keeping you awake. Try and use relaxation techniques such as yoga, stretching, meditation, or just closing your eyes somewhere safe and relxaxing for as little as 10 minutes.
Take a bath, or workout, whatever you usually do to effectively release stress and tension. Just get it in! Acupuncture, accupressure or a massage can help to relieve stress and balance tha excessive hormones circulating through your system.
Drinking lemon water and raw, freshly made green juices can help bolster the immune system as well as detox, helping to unburden the body. But beware, excessive detoxing falls under the category of stressing out your system, at least initially. The end result is fantastic, but never start a detox during a time of sickness or stress.
Lastly, make sure you don't slip on any nutrition, meals, supplements or prescriptions during that time. Make sure you are eating properly, even if you have choke down some raw almonds and carrot sticks, make sure to give your body ample protein to combat excess blood glucose (comes with the stress teritory). Trying these simple things may help to fight off the next cold or flu lurking around the corner when you feel some stress coming on. The faster and better you learn to cope with and reduce stress, the longer life you will have, and less illness/disease along the way.
Source:Potter & Perry 7th Edition, Mosby Elsevier, St. Louis 2009