How family problems, discrimination and other social stressors age our immune system and affect health

Social stresses such as discrimination and family problems, along with work and money problems, can contribute to premature aging of your immune system, a recent study found. That’s a double whammy, because the immune system already deteriorates with age.

Immune aging can lead to: cancerheart disease and other age-related health problems and reduce the effectiveness of vaccineslike Covid-19, said lead author Eric Klopack, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

“People with higher stress scores had older-appearing immune systems, with lower percentages of fresh disease fighters and higher percentages of worn-out T cells,” Klopack said.

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There are ways to stop stress in its tracks† Deep breathing increases our parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite of the “flight or fight” response. Filling the abdomen with air for a count of six makes sure you take a deep breath. Moving your body as if it were in slow motion is another way to trigger that calming reflex, experts say.

Interrupt your stressful, anxious thinking with cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. It has been shown in randomized clinical trials to relieve depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking, eating and sleeping disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

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