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Stress Affects Your Immune System: Clearly Defined Patterns Revealed

Psychologists have long known that stress affects our ability to fight infection, but a major new meta-analysis--a study of studies--has uncovered intriguing patterns of how stress affects human immunity, strengthening it in the short term but wearing it down over time. The three major findings:

  • Stress alters immunity
  • There is a pattern to the affects of stress: Short-term stress actually "revs up" the immune system, while long-term or chronic stress causes the system to break down
  • The immune systems of people who are older or already sick are more prone to stress-related change

The researchers looked at the effects of five different stressors on different immune responses, such as natural and specific immunity. While all types of stress had an effect to some degree, it appears that the most chronic stressors--those which change people's identities or social roles--could have the greatest psychological and physiological impact. Interestingly, they hope future studies will look at the role of behavior in the stress-immunity pathway. They give the example that optimism and coping are known to mitigate the immune response to stress. Along these lines, one tool for stress relief that I personally use is the Insight audio CD. It's an exceptional tool to help you dramatically reduce stress.

Psychological Bulletin July 4, 2004

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