One of the most significant effects of long-term stress is the suppression of the immune system brought about by consistently higher than normal levels of cortisol.
Normal Cortisol: Secretions of normal levels of cortisol play a vital role in helping the body deal with demands and pressures. It helps the body to function at peak performance and to maintain well-being.
In order to do this, cortisol is secreted in a regular pattern over the course of the day and night, which is based on the 24-hour circadian rhythm. The highest levels are secreted in the morning and then the levels decline to the lowest point during the late evening to the middle of the night.
This pattern of secretion is essential for the normal functioning of the immune system.
Excess Cortisol: However, the presence of excess levels of cortisol can bring about a state of overdrive, which is most evident during daytime immunity when we are dealing with pressures and demands. In excessive amounts, the immune system is weakened and the ability to fight infection is reduced, so common colds and influenza may be experienced more frequently.
In addition, the body can become more susceptible to immune-related or autoimmune diseases such as:
- rheumatoid arthritis,
- multiple sclerosis,
- skin conditions, and
Chronic stress can also turn the body from alkaline to acidic, which in turn results in a host of other conditions.
We are Still Hunter-Gatherers: We still have the same biological mechanisms, as homo sapiens 40,000 years ago, and the same stress response, to deal with a very different environment.
No wonder we suffer the consequences of an outdated biological system, which is largely inappropriate for today's demands and pressures. In short, evolution has not caught up with our fast-paced, frenetic environment.
Today, we are bombarded with a continuous stream of emotional threats and challenges and if our beliefs lead us regularly to perceive these as stressors, real or imaginary, then we face the consequences of ill health and early death as a result of our over-using our stress response.
Not a good situation. It's just the way our bodies work.