There’s two parts to today’s blog:
- How stress can affect your immune system
- How to reduce stress in 2020.
The relationship between stress and human immunity has been scientifically studied since the 1960s. While much ground-breaking work has been achieved, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the exact impact of different types of stress on the immune system, simply because it is such an amazingly intricate system of billions of cells constantly moving through your bloodstream.
Stress, immunity and disease all affect each other in reciprocal ways in a complex triangular relationship best shown by this simple diagram.
So it’s not as simple as saying a person is stressed, therefore their immunity lowered, therefore they got sick. It could be that something triggered immunity to lower, causing the person to get sick, which made them more stressed which lowered their immunity further. Or any number of possible scenarios through this flowchart.
So you might be thinking that it’s too hard to tell if stress makes a difference. Well we know that it does! Here’s a brief explanation. Immune cells have receptors for neurotransmitters and hormones (like cortisol and epinephrine) which mobilise immune cells, preparing the body to mount an immune response if needed. Evidence shows that, during stress, immune cells (lymphocytes) change their responsiveness to the signals from neurotransmitters. This has a cost to the body and, over time, chronic stress produces negative systematic changes in immune trafficking. The stress hormone corticosteroid can also suppress the effectiveness of the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes. Sometimes stress can make you do all the wrong things too, like smoke, drink and stay on the couch – so of course that will impact upon your immune system.
The types of stress we are talking about are not short term stressors (like someone shouted at you or you had a close call in your car) but long-term things like financial worries, troubled relationships, continual triggers of anxiety and feelings of loneliness. These are all things that are with us right now due to fear of the unknown, uncertain futures and isolation. That makes it a matter of priority to get stress under control, to help your mind help your body this winter.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE STRESS?
You know there’s no quick fix but there is SO much good news! There are many things you can do for starters including eating well, exercising regularly, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. (See our blogs for the previous 4 days). Exercise is just so important for so many reasons. But if you only change one thing, make it sleep: studies have shown that even one night of sleep deprivation can decrease neutrophil function (white blood cells that kill the nasties).
Here’s our top 20 stress-busters and, trust me, none of them involve a bath with candles!
- Think of something you are grateful for. Every day. Say thanks.
- Accept that there are things in this world that you can’t control.
- Have you tried tai-chi? It’s actually not daggy. Try an online tutorial.
- Learn to love green tea. It can increase serotonin levels! Who knew?
- Laugh. How long since you had a good belly laugh? Find what makes you laugh and LOL!
- Play with your pet. Teach your dog/cat/bird/ferret a new trick! Don’t have a pet? Order one online.
- Ring or skype someone who is alone right now and might be lonely – it will cheer you up.
- Listen to great music. Whatever your genre, immerse yourself and block out the world.
- Do something with the kids that you usually only do on holidays. Don’t have kids? See point 6.
- Start a creative project! Think outside the box: scrapbooking, knitting, painting, mosaic wall tiles…
- Write it down. Start journaling. You’ll be amazed what you wrote when you look back in 2 years.
- Cook more good stuff. Get the recipes out, experiment, eat whole foods, bake, stir fry, nourish!
- Manage your time better. Consult one of the myriad of time management tools online.
- Learn Italian. Or Indonesian. Or Spanish. Wherever you’re going to travel when this is all over.
- Say no to people if it’s going to cause you stress. It’s liberating. Try it.
- Declutter your life of stuff, projects, commitments and people who cause you stress (see point 15).
- Mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation and yoga are all brilliant, proven stress-busters.
- Stop procrastinating about the hard stuff. Do the hard stuff first, then the easy stuff.
- Cuddle. Positive physical touch releases oxytocin and lowers cortisol. Chimps do it, they know.
- Here’s the big one. DIGITAL DETOX. Turn it off. Put it down. Airplane mode. Whatever it takes.
Take the 20 day challenge. Print this list and put it on the fridge. Try one of these tips each day for 20 days. Come back in 3 weeks and I bet you’ll feel just a little bit different.