Answered by Janet Lee on Tuesday, December 29, 2009
"This six-letter word can do dastardly things to your body's built-in defenses," says Joseph Bellanti, M.D., past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, who specializes in treating immune disorders at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. "A certain amount of stress is good, but when it gets to be too much or if the body can't accommodate it, it's called maladaptation to stress, or distress." This maladaptation can manifest itself in different ways for different people, but it's very common for stress to have a depressant effect on one's immune system. "Once this happens—and this has been documented by several studies—you become susceptible to diseases or colds," explains Dr. Bellanti. Besides small "nuisance" problems like cold sores and the sniffles, long-term stress can also encourage auto-immune disorders, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
If you're feeling totally stressed out, the first thing to do is try to eliminate or minimize the cause of your anxiety, says Dr. Bellanti. See a marriage counselor, talk to your boss about hiring an assistant, end an unhealthy relationship—do something to change the stress factors in your life. Second, try to manage your stress through behavioral techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and (you guessed it) exercise. "Exercise is very good for stress," says Dr. Bellanti. "Breaking a sweat on the treadmill, pounding a boxing bag, or holding a yoga posture can take stress down a notch or two." Just make sure you focus on something other than what's stressing you out.