Why you get sick after bouts of stress

Julieta Rodrigo // Staff Writer

When we are stressed, our bodies enable defense mechanisms to allow us to combat our anxieties. You can tell that your body is preparing an attack on stress when your muscles begin to tighten, your adrenaline rises, and your heart rate increases.

These defense mechanisms were designed to help humans get out safely from intense and stressful situations, like an abrupt house fire, a near-death experience, or a natural disaster.

However, if your day-to-day activities are spurring these reactions from your body, it may be time to reassess your priorities and how your actions and attitudes may be worsening your health.

Putting your body in a defensive and overactive state weakens our immune system and leaves us vulnerable to infections and other diseases.

According to the Anxiety Centre, stress hormones can lead to “profuse sweating, mental confusion, upset stomach, diarrhea, uncontrollable shaking, agitation, and instability,” and leave us increasingly susceptible to illness or the flu.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with exams, a hectic work schedule, a busy extracurricular agenda, or familial/relationship issues, try simple steps to mitigate the impact on your health.

The Counseling and Psychological Services on BBC Campus said that “each one of us has a unique way of dealing with stress”, but certain techniques have shown to be helpful to most people. Studies have shown that deep breathing, aerobic exercise, walking, or engaging in artistic projects can all effectively reduce stress and allow us to think more clearly.

CAPS also encouraged students “not to bite off more than you can chew” and to follow the SBRC method:

Stop-Breathe-Reflect-Choose is a method that takes less than two minutes but it is effective at targeting negative reactions to stress.

  1. Stop: Stop your thoughts about the situation for a few seconds.
  2. Breathe: Breathe in deeply, and allow tension to release as you exhale.
  3. Reflect: Determine whether the situation is a crisis, and what productive steps you can take to improve the situation. Typically, worrying and becoming tense will not be the rational answers to your circumstance.
  4. Choose: You have the power to choose your actions when dealing with stressful situations. Choose the path that best serves you, and you will find that your responses become more positive and helpful.

Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist, told Health.com that we will never have a truly stress-free life.

“What is key is how you manage what life throws at you,” she said. “You want to short-circuit worry before it overloads you.”

Vivian Betancourt, a senior double majoring in political science and international relations, said that politics can sometimes be  a big stress in her life , but chooses a proactive way of dealing with it.

“As an international student from Mexico, I feel that politics and the media are becoming priorities in my daily life”, she told FIUSM. “I don’t think there is a ‘right’ way to deal with this, so I just stay informed so that I can be participative in any conversation or discussion relevant to the matter.”

In contrast, Marisel Lavizzari, a freshman majoring in business management, told FIUSM that she doesn’t pay attention to political news, but having her family away and not being able to help stresses her out. However, she finds relief for her emotions by channeling them elsewhere such as through dancing, music, and talking to people about her issues so they do not bottle up.

If you or someone you know needs help in reducing, eliminating or overcoming stress, please contact FIU’s Counseling and Psychological Services at (305) 348-2277 (MMC Campus) or (305) 919-5305 (BBC Campus).


The following survey includes 25 students on both MMC and BBC campuses speaking on the stresses in their lives.


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