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The Stress Connection to Autoimmunity and Fatigue Syndromes

January 04, 2018

Stress is a total body drain.

In the case of autoimmune illness, stress both escalates the process that allows autoimmune reactions, and worsens the disease symptoms.

Stress is also a factor in the development of fatigue syndromes like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia, which aren’t technically autoimmune reactions, but share many features.

While this might seem like bad news, take a moment to think about it. Stress is one factor that you have control over.

While there will always be stress in our lives, a lot of stress is generated in our minds.

We can’t control every circumstance in our lives, but we can change how we respond to stressful situations.

Changing how you respond to stress can make a big difference in your well being and immune system health.

Better stress management may even help prevent autoimmune illness or fatigue syndromes from taking hold or worsening if you’re already affected.

What is Autoimmune Illness?

Autoimmune reactions occur when the immune system goes haywire, attacking your own body systems and tissues.

Autoimmune illnesses affect the thyroid, skin, joints, digestive tract, liver, adrenals, pancreas, and even your brain.

A few examples are: Hashimoto’s disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Grave’s disease, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia are less understood, but have similar features and triggers as autoimmune illnesses.

Scientists are not entirely sure what causes these reactions, but genetic, environmental, hormonal, and immune factors are all believed to play a role. Recent trauma and infections are other known factors.

The Role Of Stress

Research finds up to 80% of people report unusual emotional stress before the onset of an autoimmune illness.

Evidence shows this is even true for children with autoimmune illnesses, who are commonly affected by emotional traumas or tragedy early in their lives.

For fatigue syndromes, high stress, depression, and anxiety often precede a flare up of symptoms.

What’s Happening To Our Bodies Under Stress?

Chronic stress exhausts the endocrine system, especially the adrenal glands, allowing burnout and depression to set in.

Over time, this affects sleep patterns and immune response, encouraging a weakened environment where CFS or fibromyalgia can develop.

Stress affects digestion. Have you ever experienced nervous diarrhea? Stress can cause digestive spasms, irritation, and inflammation.

An impaired digestive system affects nutrient absorption and immune health.

High stress contributes to leaky gut syndrome. In leaky gut syndrome, proteins slip through the weakened gut wall and into the bloodstream, causing the immune system to go on the offensive.

Leaky gut syndrome is believed to be a prime factor in autoimmune illness and fatigue syndromes.

Even if your diet is healthy, high stress ignites inflammation in the whole body.

Some experts believe stress is the missing connection that allows the immune, endocrine, and central nervous system to become imbalanced in autoimmune reactions.

Who’s under stress today?

A little stress is normal, but chronic stress can be devastating. Furthermore, some people are more at risk for stress related illness than others.

Here are a few examples of people who are more at risk for a health crisis or autoimmune reaction.

  • Caretakers
  • People experiencing loss, serious illness, or financial deprivation in their families
  • People going through divorce
  • People in abusive or toxic relationships
  • People who are unemployed or underemployed
  • People who are overworked
  • Children affected by any of the previous concerns

Get Better, Starting Now

To stay healthy in today’s world, we need to get to work… on ourselves! Self-care is empowering, and reinvigorates your mind, body and spirit. Here are a few pointers.

Put yourself on your priority list.

Take a close look at your to do list. Are you on it? Are you taking time for nutritious meals and breaks?

Give yourself love every day by giving your body what it needs to be nourished and healthy.

Choose healthy relationships.

Limit or avoid interactions with people who drain your energy or who are unkind.

Use healthy boundaries and learn to “say no” if you’re overwhelmed or overextended.

Seek outside help for unresolved grief or trauma.

Counseling or support groups are a great option for long term stress related to childhood issues, grief, or trauma.

In fact, psychotherapy could be a key component to the recovery process from an autoimmune illness.

Practice Mindfulness.

Stay focused in the “now.” Don’t allow fears of the future or sadness from the past to hurt your health today.

Consider a meditation practice to stay centered and grounded.

Try Affirmations.

Overcome negative thinking patterns by using positive affirmations. Remind yourself that you are strong, capable, and loved every day.

A positive attitude can turn around your health and entire life.

Get moving.

You may be surprised at how much stress and emotional baggage you can release through exercise.

Exercising with a friend or spouse also recharges your relationship.

Try a short cleanse.

A 24 hour juice cleanse releases toxins and gives the digestive system a short break.

Have fresh juices, broths, herbal teas, and very light meals while you’re cleansing.

Support healthy digestion.

Include prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, dandelion greens, endive, and artichokes to encourage normal intestinal flora balance.

Include plenty of high fiber foods like apples, pears, and gluten-free whole grains to keep elimination strong.

Immune Daily Tonic.

The immune system benefits from the gentle, balancing action of tonic herbs. Tonic herbs are not harsh or overwhelming to the system.

They promote normal immune response and overall body strength. A few of my favorites are: reishi mushroom, astragalus, and schisandra.

Round up

Stress can alter your body chemistry, setting the stage for fatigue syndromes and autoimmune reactions.

Following a daily stress management plan protects your body and encourages recovery if you’re sick.

Stay committed to your self-care practices and relaxation therapies. They are truly some of the best ways to stay healthy in a high stress world.



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Hyman, M. (2015). Top 5 autoimmune triggers you can control: Part 1 Stress. Retrieved from Healing is Freedom,
Leclère, J. & Weryha, G. (1989). Stress and auto-immune endocrine diseases. Hormone Research, 31(1-2), 90-3. Retrieved from
Myers, A. (2017). Understanding the true cause of autoimmune disease. Retrieved from Amy Meyers,
Stojanovich, L.& Marisavljevich, D. (2008, Jan.). Stress as a trigger of autoimmune disease.Autoimmunity Reviews, 7(3),209-13. Retrieved from