It’s no secret that stress negatively affects the immune system. Indirectly, stressed people tend to engage in behaviors that have negative effects on the immune system; directly, sympathetic nerves connecting the brain to the immune system transmit signals that hamper immune effectiveness. Chronic stress and resulting inflammation are linked to higher rates of diseases with inadequate immunity responses (infections) as well as excessive immune activity (autoimmune disorders and allergies).
Stress is the reaction our bodies have to life events. The hypothalamus, and pituitary and adrenal glands produce hormones to handle the “fight or flight” response. This response is essential to life because it allows us to handle the challenges of our ever-changing world, but becomes a problem when it’s triggered too frequently, putting us out of balance and depleting the body’s reserves.
During stress, our brain reacts by sending a message to our adrenal glands, which release stress hormones to mobilize physical, mental, and emotional resources. Cortisol is the key hormone that influences our health because it affects the endocrine system governing metabolism, sleep, mood, and other functions. It also disrupts the digestion, immune, and nervous systems, so restoring optimal cortisol levels is crucial. Fortunately, we have a wealth of natural ways to approach and balance stress. You don’t always have control over what happens to you, but you do have control over how you react, so living mindfully—i.e., paying attention to your thoughts and actions—is important.
And best of all, it’s not that hard! First, allow enough time to properly take care of yourself and build a foundation for good health. Next, find the trigger source(s) of your stress (diet, lifestyle, work, thoughts and feelings, etc.) and take steps to calm and renew your body, mind and spirit. To begin, be kind to yourself!
Use the “Big 4” strategies:
- Mindful living
- Enough sleep
- Balanced diet
- Regular exercise
Mind your focus to manage stress. Focusing on what pleases us is necessary for mental and emotional health. Stay present. Activities that inspire us to smile, laugh, and think positively are beneficial; constant negative thoughts from TV, newspapers, social media, and family issues are not. Choose to “shut off” these voices and seek inspirational outlets to prevent negativity and relieve stress.
The right amount of sleep helps us feel more energetic and better able to cope. Maintain regular bedtime and waking hours, avoid caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime, and refrain from intense physical activity close to retiring. Short naps, 20 minutes or less, can also bring dramatic improvements.
Eat a nutritious, whole foods diet to prepare your body for daily stress. Eat when you’re calm and enjoy your food with gratitude. Drink 6–8 glasses of filtered water between meals to reduce metabolic stress and help maintain regularity.
Move regularly to dispel the nervous tension of stress. Even 10 minutes out of your busy schedule for walking can work wonders.
And there’s more! Relaxation techniques, including guided imagery, deep breathing (even a few breaths), yoga, qigong, meditation, and massage can also result in a significant reduction of physical and emotional tension. Effective communication with responding—not reacting—can create instantaneous hormonal shifts, and time management, with thoughtful planning to accomplish tasks while allowing for leisure pursuits or relaxation, are all great stress relievers.
When we use the “Big 4” strategies for decreasing stress and managing its causes, we are taking important steps on our path to well-being by keeping our immune system functioning at its best.
Dr. Marie Mammone is a Connecticut licensed and board-certified naturopathic doctor practicing at the Naturopathic and Acupuncture Health Center in Wethersfield, CT, for over 20 years. She welcomes working with her clients to maintain and regain their health using her knowledge of a variety of therapies, including clinical nutrition, botanicals, homeopathy, acupuncture, and much more. For more information, please call today at 860.529.1200 or read more at: www.NAHcenter.com.