Stress & Your Immune System

Stress & Your Immune System

I need this article. Right now, it's 12:13 PM. I've been waiting since 8 AM. for the telephone repair person to show up. My line has been out for 5 days. (If you called, you heard it ringing. I didn't, and couldn't have answered if I did.)

Up, Up, & Away

As I mull this over, I'm aware that my stress level is soaring. I want my phone line fixed now! Since the phone company has a monopoly on repairs, I have no option but to sit and wait for them. Grrrrr!

Relax Or Else

However, for my health it would be best to relax and to accept this situation which I have no power to change. Scientific evidence that our immune systems are adversely affected by stress is piling up.

The connection between thought and the immune system was known 100 years ago when doctors discovered that an artificial rose could trigger an allergy attack. Today, the evidence is far more clinical.

"Animal Tales"

Here's an example that eliminates the "placebo effect" from interfering with an experiment. If you add a drug that suppresses the immune system to flavored water and give it to animals, their immune systems go down. After a few days of this, just giving them the flavored water alone makes their immune systems go down!

Negative Thoughts Affect Us

In humans, we now know that stressful or negative thoughts depress our immune system. Why that is so is not known, but it's true. So, if real stress -- like being trapped in a room with a politician running for office -- affects your immune system, then just thinking about, or imagining, that event will also depress your immune system.

Edgar Cayce, the man credited with initiating the concept of holistic health, stated this principal many different ways. The most direct was, "Worry and fear are the greatest foes to a normal healthy physical body, turning the assimilated forces in the system into poisons..."


The strongest enemies your body has to contend with are the chemicals produced by your own stressful thoughts. Accepting that concept will, hopefully, motivate me to work on keeping my negative, worrisome thoughts in check.

More Research

Medical studies indicate that people who are mentally depressed are less resistant to respiratory infections. Tumors in lab mice grow much more quickly when they are placed under stress by having to watch Montel, Sally Jesse, etc., all day.

But rats who are given an outlet for their frustrations (a miniature Garfield?) are healthier than those who don't.

Pressure Relief Valves

So one obvious way to a relieve stress is to have a benign outlet for it. When your body responds to a perceived stressor, real or imaginary, it mobilizes for fight or flight. It's preparing for battle or for hightailing it to safety at warp speed.

What are some physical ways to relieve your stress? Yelling, stomping around, beating a pillow, punching a mattress, running, dancing, chopping wood, fast walking -- anything that gets your body moving will burn up the stress-produced chemicals.

Non-Physical Approaches

However, if you are chained to a desk, you can vent your feelings on paper. If you don't release them in some way its like having eight four-year-olds running through the house. Sooner or later something bad is going to happen!

More heart attacks happen on Monday morning than on any other day. Makes sense, right? If you pile stress on top of stress, one of them will be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Thoughts Create Stress

Look at what I created. For four days I accepted that I did not have a phone. I could have fumed and fussed, but whatever I did would not have altered the facts. Instead of getting riled up over it, I focused on how nice and quiet it was -- no interruptions!

All was well until I started to focus on my problem. When the repairman did not show on time, I chose to get angry. Ten minutes later he arrived and fixed the problem in fifteen minutes. "Fifteen darn minutes! I had no phone for four days, and he fixed it in just fifteen minutes! Boy, am I mad."

"But Ed," you ask, "Now that your phone line is working you got exactly what you said you wanted, so why are you angry?"

"Because if it was such a simple problem to fix, why did I have to wait four days for them to do it?" That response may not win the logic award, but it was what I was feeling.

We Always Have Choices

My choices in this situation boiled down to: 1) Did I want to keep my righteous anger -- my indignation at Pacific Bell for their (in my mind) dreadful service, or 2) did I want to be thankful that my phone was now working?

If I chose #1, the consequence would be that my body chemistry would get all riled up causing my immune system to go into a downhill slide. If I chose #2, I would be at peace and my immune system would be perking along just fine.

Which Did I Choose?

Naturally, I chose #1. Is that dumb or what? I just had to have a little pity party and to stick my tongue out at the phone company for a couple of hours. They, of course, didn't know that, nor would they have cared.

A Conscious Choice

After a short period of pouting I made a conscious decision. I chose to focus on the good news -- I have my phone/modem back -- rather than on my negative view of the past, which I can't change, and which will adversely affect my health.

Later, when negative thoughts about the whole episode popped up, I replaced them with a positive ones.

Since this is such a trivial issue, you can imagine what I might do with a significant one. Regardless, the best way to extricate yourself from negative quick-sand is to realize that you get to choose your thoughts and to review your possible choices.

What Are The Consequences?

When I look at the consequences of the choices I have, it usually becomes a no-brainer. Why choose to focus on the past, on something that I can't change, when doing so will only upset my body chemistry, not to mention souring my attitude?

But part of me likes to moan and groan, to feel sorry for myself when I think I've been wronged. So I gave myself permission to have a short Pity Party. Then "That's it. No more whacking yourself in the head with a hammer to vent your anger at something that can't be changed."

But old habits die slowly. After years of brooding over things, of seeing ourselves as the victim of people and circumstances, it can be hard to let go of that process.

It's no different from breaking any habit. Quitting smoking, stopping lying, or not blaming others, all will take work. Are you willing to commit to doing it?

Thought Stopping

If so, begin. Start tomorrow by taking one event that would normally tick you off for minutes or hours and practice thought stopping. When you catch yourself brooding over what happened in the past and can't be changed, decide to stop thinking about it.

Erase and Replace

Then replace that thought with another, a positive one if you can come up with it. Even one as simple as, "God can use this for good," or "I don't like this situation, but it is really going to help me to grow as a person."

After you've gotten the knack of practicing thought stopping, or, more realistically, thought changing, on one thing, or one person a day, expand it to others.

An Analogy

If I were going to work on changing my eating habits, I'd start with one meal, or maybe just one day of the week. "Every Monday I'll have a salad for lunch." Or, "Every evening I'll have a salad."

Obviously, I've got to eat something so why not start introducing a salad a day, or every other day? When that becomes part of my normal routine, then I'd move on to the next change I wanted to make.

Change Your Thoughts, Too

Use the same process with your thoughts. You've got to think about something, right? So why not consciously choose what that will be in a given situation? Unless you replace the negative thoughts with others thoughts, you'll continue to experience what you always experienced. Is that what you want?

If you want less stress and a healthier immune system, then you need to make some changes.


The key is to begin. If you experience negative thinking, and we all do to one degree or another, realize it is adversely affecting your health and your disposition. Is that a sufficient motivation to change?

If not, realize that the thoughts you have about others, others will have about you! Yes, that's true. If you condemn and criticize others, then those are the thoughts that you are seeding and you will, eventually, have to reap them.

A Profound Awareness

That thought, that I would reap from others what I sowed, changed my life. It dawned on me that if what I gave out is going to come back to me, I need to be much more careful about what I give out.

You, too. That's why I suggest reseeding your thoughts when they are negative.

Upping The Ante

However, even when I am consciously aware of that fact, I sometimes am not willing to make the changes I say I want to make. I, obviously, need even more motivation to act.

So I resort to self-chosen consequences. Why not rewards? Because I know from experience that consequences are more effective for me.

Use What Works

If, say, I don't exercise 3/5 days this week, then I have to give an additional $20 to a homeless person or to a charity. If, say, I think 5 negative thoughts about the telephone company, and don't reseed them, I have to watch Lawrence Welk reruns for an hour.

Of course, I can keep upping the ante until I do what it is I say I want to do. Or I can just quit and go back to doing it the usual way and get the usual results.

More Of The Same?

I can continue to complain or I can start doing something to create positive changes. Isn't it wonderful that we have that power. What a gift.

And if you make changes, but sometimes regress to the old ways, that's not a big problem. As Mary Pickford so eloquently put it, "If you have made a mistake, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you.

"And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you chose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."

So now I'm thinking about my good fortune in having my telephone back again. It's work, but worth it.

Article copyright Stress Management Press.


By Ed Rocks

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