Can Autoimmune Diseases Cause Low Stress Tolerance?

Autoimmune stress

Last Updated on 11 July 2022

Can autoimmune diseases cause stress disorders? That is a question I asked myself many times. Searching on the Web, in fact, I found tons of information on the opposite matter, namely that stress disorders surely trigger autoimmune diseases, but not the contrary.

In this new post, hence, I explored the topic under a different perspective, to understand how an autoimmune disease could be involved in the onset of severe kinds of low stress tolerance.

Let’s start, as usual, from the beginning.

What is Stress?

Stress is commonly defined as a reaction to events which cause emotional strain, frustration, anxiety and depression. All the negative events triggering the reaction called stress are defined as stressors.

There are many, different stressors in our life, with different impacts over us.

The loss of a job, financial troubles, divorce, the death of a loved person are all stressors, namely events capable of causing stress.

In the aforementioned cases, stress becomes a natural and normal mechanism which protects us from unbearable sorrows. The stress-related emotions, indeed, allow us to metabolize the tough strikes of life and forget them over time.

What Happens When You Have Low Stress Tolerance?

Instead, when you suffer from low stress tolerance, the negative emotional reaction occurs even on positive or mild impact events, such as marriage, a new job, holidays, rejection, or simply because you didn’t find a table at the restaurant.

In this case, every life’s mishap is a big problem for you, because it causes severe bouts of rage, anxiety and depression. These unpleasant emotions produce a severe discomfort and most of the time push you to give up or leave any achievement or condition which may be a source of stress.

I have suffered from low stress tolerance in my lifetime, and have an autoimmune disease, as well. According to my personal experience, I can tell you this type of disorder is highly disruptive and debilitating for your physical and mental health.

When you have low stress tolerance, in fact, you have to do double or triple efforts to reach the same results that healthy people obtain with normal and balanced reactions.

I also noticed that low stress tolerance has a progressive evolution on particular circumstances, such as the advent of menopause or ageing. These two conditions are both stressors, because they weaken the functions of our hormonal system.

When we go through particular hormonal changes, one of the first things we lose is patience.

Low stress tolerance is strongly involved in a severe lack of patience. The latter is the human capacity to bear and tolerate discomfort, unpleasant conditions, obstacles, clashes and conflicts.

Patience requires calm, sensitivity, docility, mildness, mindfulness, tolerance and understanding. All requirements that people affected by low stress tolerance or stress disorders don’t have.

They lack the patience because their mood is severely unbalanced by the exaggerated reaction to stressors.

According to modern Psychiatry, indeed, low stress tolerance may be a symptom of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder.

Moreover, according to a study, the association between mental disorders and autoimmune diseases was observed by doctors centuries before the immune system was discovered. Psychosis arising either with the occurrence or disappearance of acute fever has been described by many scientists from Hippocrates around 400 BC.

What Autoimmune Diseases Cause Mental Disorders?

The same study has listed autoimmune diseases which may cause mental illnesses.

Psychosis, for instance, is associated with:

However, current clinical trials tend to explore the link between stress and autoimmune diseases in accordance with the perspective that the former causes the latter. But this link is, still today, unclear.

Why, hence, don’t try observing the matter on the opposite perspective, namely that autoimmune diseases cause mental disorders and even low stress tolerance? Let’s discover how the mechanism works.

Stress Disorders and Autoimmune Diseases

The study I mentioned above, drafted a scheme of possible mechanisms and factors that can influence the association of autoimmune diseases with psychosis.

Genetic predisposition, infections and microbiome can alter the immune system, causing a deregulation of T and B cells, which activate neuronal antibodies and chronic inflammation. The latter can cause autoimmune diseases and mental disorders, such as psychosis. This mental disorder, in turn, is a cause of psychological stress.

Hence, according to this scheme, low stress tolerance would be closely linked to a mental disorder caused by the typical chronic inflammation of autoimmune diseases.

The scheme, however, also indicates psychological stress as a cause of autoimmune diseases along with genes, infections and so on…, leading us to the initial point of view.

But if it is true that stress may cause chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases, it might also be true that autoimmune diseases cause psychological stress or a major vulnerability to stressors.

As regards this point of view, a video of Dr. Dawn Elise Snipes, about the interactions between autoimmune diseases and mood disorders, explains this process, clearly.

How Autoimmune Diseases Interact with Stress

During her talk, in fact, the doctor explained that when we have an autoimmune disease, our immune system releases cytokines which attack our healthy tissues.

Cytokines are molecules that our immune system produces to defend us from infections, diseases or antigens (viruses, bacteria, cancer cells…) which can cause them. During the attack of cytokines against these antigens, our body releases a high quantity of adrenaline and cortisol.

These two hormones have inflammatory effects. Inflammation, indeed, serves to repair the damages caused by a disease and facilitate the recovery.

With autoimmune diseases, cytokines also attack our own tissues because they don’t recognize them as healthy, but like antigens and enemies. When this unbalanced process occurs, adrenaline and cortisol are produced against the wrong target: it can be the thyroid, in case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, bones and muscles in case of arthritis rheumatoid or multiple sclerosis, skin in case of lupus or psoriasis.

But adrenaline and cortisol are the same hormones our body releases when we are psychologically stressed!

Hence, stress escalates inflammation and autoimmune diseases, but inflammation and autoimmune diseases make us more vulnerable to stress.

An autoimmune disease is an endless loop of inflammatory processes and inflammation promoted by inflammatory cytokines attacking the wrong tissues!

In these processes, adrenaline and cortisol are always present, because they are the main components of autoimmune diseases.

Is Low Stress Tolerance your Fault?

It is obvious that a person with an autoimmune disease is more susceptible to stressors, coming across psychological stress and consequent mood or mental disorders.

Hence, if you have autoimmune diseases and low stress tolerance, it is not your fault. This consideration, however, must not justify your frequent bouts of anger and bad mood.

In this case, you must realize that you have a mental disorder caused by an autoimmune disease and do your best to overcome it.

A few years ago, I asked my family doctor how I could get rid of my Hashimoto’s disease to relieve my stress disorders.

He replied that in most of the cases, autoimmune diseases have genetic roots and to cure them, we should replace our unbalanced genome with a healthier one.

This is surely science fantasy at the moment, but we can always reduce the impact of stressors on our life.

How to Improve Stress Tolerance

If your stress disorders are caused by an autoimmune disease, try reducing the factors that worsen the chronic inflammation.

In my case, for example, I eliminated dairy and gluten from my diet, because these ingredients cause extreme inflammation when you have Hashimoto’s.

Thanks to my new diet, I observed a substantial improvement of my stress tolerance.

Another solution is behavioral psychotherapy, which, thanks to proper strategies, teaches us to better cope with the stressors we’ll meet in our lifetime.

I also suggest that you read books about positive thinking, a modern technique that accustoms us to drive away bad thoughts, replacing them with more healthy considerations.

I know many of you wonder if there are medications to treat low stress tolerance caused by autoimmune diseases. I tried answering in the following paragraph.

How To Treat Autoimmune Stress Disorders?

For all the things we have said until now, we can also talk about autoimmune stress disorders, as well, simply called Autoimmune Stress. That is a wide range of psychological or mental discomforts stemming from autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Dawn Elise Snipes explained, in her video, that patients with stress from autoimmune diseases have been treated with immunosuppressants or antidepressants. Immunosuppressants should aim to soothe or break down the chronic inflammation grounded in any autoimmune diseases, while antidepressants stabilize the mood in case of severe stress.

Unfortunately, immunosuppressants can’t be administered along with antidepressants, because they go into conflict among them.

Moreover, immunosuppressants aren’t absorbed and metabolized by our body. And, most of the time, they are ineffective or even harmful.

Just think of suppressing your immune system in case of a pandemic like the one of Covid-19. What could be the risk?

Clinical trials on mice are trying to discover new molecules that regulate inflammation in autoimmune diseases. It seems that inhibiting these molecules, in the immune system, also inhibits the inflammatory response of T cells involved in the onset of autoimmune diseases.

If these findings will be applied to human beings, we can hope to get rid of low stress tolerance caused by autoimmune processes.

Conclusion

This article has been very challenging for me, because I am personally and emotionally involved with my same life experience. There are few sources about stress disorders caused by autoimmune diseases, although millions of people in the world experience this extreme discomfort.

I hope that, after this post, science and medicine will approach the matter with a more serious commitment.

References and Bibliography

  1. Jeppesen R, Benros ME. Autoimmune Diseases and Psychotic Disorders. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10:131. Published 2019 Mar 20. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00131 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6435494/
  2. Dr. Dawn Elise Snipes – Autoimmune Issues & Mental Health: Understanding the Interactions – YouTube Video
  3. Duan L, Rao X, Sigdel KR. Regulation of Inflammation in Autoimmune Disease. J Immunol Res. 2019;2019:7403796. Published 2019 Feb 28. doi:10.1155/2019/7403796 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6421792/
Author: Rosalba Mancuso
Rosalba Mancuso is a medical journalist, an international content writer credited at the University of Washington and a blogger born in Sicily. She is popular for founding four websites in English. On Modernhealthinfo.com, Rosalba writes well researched and detailed health articles backed by her experience as a medical writer for pharma companies and as a PR assistant for a clinical analysis laboratory. She is also a member of the AHCJ, American Association of Health Care Journalists and Center for Excellence in Health Journalism.

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