When your immune system may be spiking anxiety, it can be anything from fear of the future to fear of the unknown that is causing the anxiety. What happens is that your body is feeling stressed and the immune system may be the key to understanding how it happens.
Stress occurs when a person experiences conditions that are harder than or different from normal in ways he or she cannot predict or control. Sleep deprivation, starvation, combat, disease, and bullying may not seem to have much in common but they are all causes of stress. The fight-or-flight response in the body kicks in and the body conserves every calorie it can. The body is ready for what the world has in mind. Chronic, unrelenting stress tends to have an adverse effect on health, in part through modulation of an individual’s immune response. Inflammation is not damaging per se, but often times it is beneficial.
Although the minds of mice hardly approach the complexity of human brains, stress systems are similar to ours. To make this mouse model as accurate as possible, a research team tried to create an stressor that is something humans might experience: bullying. Several young male mice coexisted peacefully in a single cage. The researchers introduced a larger, more aggressive male to induce stress. The mouse attacked and bullied other mice until they became submissive. The mice already there were fully stressed. As the study progressed, the researchers genetically engineered a set of mice so they did not have the genes the monocytes used to target the brain. The bullied mice had the same immune response, but did not act more anxious and were happy to explore. The monocytes in the brain, it was decided, could be targets for new drugs to treat anxiety. Humans and mice experience stress differently. What we learn from animals is that the immune system plays a significant role in the development of prolonged anxiety. Your immune system and brain are intricately linked. When you are stressed, things get out of whack in your body. The challenge is that you are not always sure how to respond in a time of feeling anxious because your body may be sending you signals you cannot interpret when under stress. The biggest thing is to understand how your body reacts and responds in times of stress so you can work to combat the way you respond. This will ultimately help you in recovery, and life, as you go forward through work, life, and relationships.
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