Stress and the Immune System

How much can the mind effect the body?


Pooja Shah, Editor-in-Chief


Let’s set some ground before we delve into how stress can affect the immune system. Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances (Oxford Languages). It is often associated with feelings of irritability, headaches, and sleep problems (Mayo Clinic). In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, some amount of stress is normal. The body is equipped with an “alarm system” to protect itself against threats. However, the foundation also emphasizes that the body is meant to return to a state of normal after the stressor (source of stress) is removed.

There are two types of stress. MedlinePlus (a health information website produced by the National Library of Medicine) says they consist of acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is short-term stress that dissipates quickly. Examples are slamming the brakes, riding roller coasters, or taking a test. Chronic stress lasts for a longer period, perhaps even weeks or months. These are larger overarching problems such as financial instability and long-lasting problems with school or work.

Thus where does the immune system fit into all of this? Psychoneuroimmunology or PNI for short is the study of stress and how it relates to the immune system. Yeah, you read that right. A nine-syllable word that despite my best efforts I can only pronounce eight of. On a good day. Which brings us to the main question: Does prolonged stress lead to a decrease in the body’s ability to fight off infections?



Spoiler alert, yes it does. The Mayo Clinic explains it like this – when a body is stressed, the brain produces cortisol, a chemical in short spurts that can help increase glucose (sugar) levels. Glucose helps keep the brain alert in a tense situation. But when it is continually released, it can begin to have adverse effects on the body. In addition, according to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can also decrease lymphocytes, white blood cells that help fight off infections.

What specific problems can this cause? A study titled The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication says “Diseases whose development has been linked to both stress and inflammation include cardiovascular dysfunctions, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune syndromes and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders” (Mariotti). Furthermore, studies conducted by Dr. Keely Muscatell, an assistant professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, detail in her 2022 TEDTalk, that the immune system affects even social lives. It can prompt one to withdraw from strangers or new experiences, and pull one closer to a tight-knit circle of loved ones.



As high school students who are on the cusp of becoming adults and introducing new and stressful situations to their lives, it brings up the important question of how does one manage stress? Harvard Health analyzes three techniques that may be useful. The first one is relaxation techniques which consist of yoga, meditation, or guided imagery. The second is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which one can identify negative thinking and replace it with positive and a healthy mindset. The final is goal setting. Feeling in control and having positive commitment may lead to higher amounts of optimism and less stress.
The mind and body are often linked, thus it is important to pay attention to both as you seek new experiences.

Your body may be expressing symptoms of your mental well-being, and similarly, your mind can be affected by your physical well-being. Remember to destress and take some time to evaluate your mental and physical health.


Best ways to manage stress – Harvard Health. (2015). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

Chronic stress puts your health at risk. (2022). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

Encyclopedia, M., & health, S. (2022). Stress and your health: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

Mariotti, A. (2015). The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain–body communication. Future Science OA, 1(3). DOI: 10.4155/fso.15.21

Stress management Stress basics. (2022). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

Stress?, W., body?, H., way?, D., situation?, I., stress?, W., I am feeling stressed, d., & stress?​, H. (2022). Stress. Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

TEDx Talks. (2022, October 4). The social life of your immune system | Keely Muscatell | TEDxReno [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from

What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from


Download Free Vectors, Clipart Graphics, Vector Art & Design Templates. (2022). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

Free Vector | Students with books and gadgets in school college or university girls and boys teenagers communicate chat work on laptop prepare for exams classmates studying line art flat vector illustration. (2022). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from

Premium Vector | Immune system concept with woman and shield. (2022). Retrieved 23 October 2022, from