Immune Health Series Part 2: Reduce Stress
This is part 2 in a four part installment all about boosting immune health.
I have talked about stress so many times on the blog, I can't keep count! I truly believe that stress is the root cause of most chronic health issues, and that when we truly think about it, most of us can pinpoint past physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual stressors that compiled and led us to the health issues we have today.
So, in light of what is happening in the world right now with the coronavirus, I wanted to take some time to talk through what stress can do to our bodies so that hopefully, we can manage our anxiety and fears during this time and not end up with chronic health issues as a result OR develop the virus as a result of a stress-weakened immune system. First, I'll discuss the effects of stress followed by ways to reduce stress today!
The Effects of Stress
As I list the effects of stress, remember this: all of these effects weaken our bodies and immune system, leaving us vulnerable for chronic health issues (or a virus!) to take root.
When we are stressed, our body burns through nutrients more rapidly, making it vital that we replenish our stores with real, whole food (not necessarily vitamins...they aren't one in the same). When our nutrient levels are depleted, we have fewer resources to help arm our body in order to beat and combat stress.
If we are stressed, our sleep usually suffers as well. Sometimes, our minds race at night when we are stressed, causing us to be unable to fall asleep. Additionally, if our cortisol/melatonin patterns are disrupted from stress, we will also have a hard time falling or staying asleep. Lack of sleep impacts our immune system tremendously, as we talked about in the first post in this series from last week.
All of our hormones are effected from stress, including our sex, thyroid, and adrenal hormones. When our hormones are off, our entire body is off!
Mood and Attitude
When we are stressed, our mental health often suffers from the lack of sleep, lowered nutrient levels, and disrupted hormones. We become more susceptible to anxiety and depression, which have their own set of issues and struggles.
Our immune system is impacted by stress due to a reduction in quality sleep and nutrient stores. When we are stressed, we become more susceptible to illnesses.
Gut health can be a source of stress but more commonly is impacted by other sources of stress (this definitely has been true for me!). When we don't get enough of the right kinds of foods, aren't sleeping enough, or have any sort of hormonal disregulation, our gut health suffers. Moreover, our gut is often referred to as our second brain, making it susceptible to the health of our mental health as well.
When we are stressed, our bodies have a harder time managing excess carbohydrates, and we often crave more refined foods as well, which doesn't help our blood sugar either. You can read more about blood sugar regulation here.
I've mentioned it numerous times already, but still it bears repeating. When our bodies are under stress, inflammation is created in the body. When our bodies become inflamed, all sorts of processes start to go wrong in the body as hormonal pathways are disrupted. Inflammation is truly at the root of stress and modern diseases.
Now the important information, how to reduce and manage stress starting today!
How to Reduce & Manage Stress:
Managing and reducing stress isn't easy - it takes constant, concentrated efforts day in and day out. It's all too easy to fall back into our stressed out pathways, but true health only comes when we start to manage our stress. Stress can literally rob us of our health and happiness, and I'd argue that it can even kill us.
Please note that these suggestions for managing stress will not work for everyone. You have to do the work to determine what does and doesn't work for you with regard to reducing your stress. However, you actually have to try. Dismissing a suggestion because it seems "woo-woo" or "crazy" won't help your situation. Relax, calm down, and keep an open mind and I know you'll be surprised at the results.
Relax, Breathe, and Calm Down
When we are stressed, we often get that feeling of complete overwhelm and busyness that crawls up inside of us. In order to properly reduce and manage stress, we must take some time to breathe deeply and relax. This allows us to get into a parasympathetic state where our body is relaxed. If we spend too much time in the sympathetic state (fight or flight state), we aren't doing our body or stress levels any good.
Stay Off Social Media/News
If you are stressed, the last thing you need is more fuel for the fire. Take a break from social media and the news, even if it's just for an hour!
Finding Joy in the Little Things
When we are stressed, it's far too easy to get caught up in the monotonous cycle of everyday life. You have to go outside of yourself to find little things each day that bring you joy. It can be something as simple as a little decoration on your desk at work that makes you smile.
Lavender is one of the best essential oils to help you calm down, but there are other great options as well including Frankincense and Serenity (a blend by doTerra). You can find more options here. aren't exercising
Many gyms are closing or have been closed, so it's the perfect time for at home, bodyweight workouts or yoga on You-Tube options to keep moving! Walks outside also do WONDERS for our mental and physical health too.
We've talked about sleep a lot in this series on stress, but for good reason. Stress and sleep are so intimately combined. In order to reduce stress, we must be getting enough quality sleep. I'll refer you to my previous series on sleep with part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.
Obviously, we need to be eating plenty of real, whole, nourishing foods in order to combat stress. I recommend avoiding common inflammatory foods like grains, conventional dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, vegetable oils, trans fats, and food dyes and colors. These foods make our stress situation worse, as they rob our bodies of crucial nutrients. Focusing on real, whole food and eating in a PFC balanced manner that helps support your blood sugar is the best way to help continue to reduce and manage stress.
I started acupuncture over a year ago as a way to help reduce the impact of stress on my body, and it has been truly transformational for me. Acupuncture helps reset the bodily systems that may have been disrupted by stress. I highly recommend it for anyone dealing with stress, hormonal disruption, or any other ailments. Trust me - it's not as scary as it appears.
Developing a self-care routine is a huge factor in recovering from stress. Taking time to yourself, sitting in silence, getting a massage, doing activities that bring you joy, loving your body and yourself - these are all huge pieces of self-care that cannot be undermined. If you refuse to make self-care a part of your lifestyle in favor of giving everything to other people, you will eventually not be able to help out those you love because you refused to help yourself when you needed it the most.
Healing your gut health is vital to reducing inflammation and stress in the body. I recommend eating a real food diet, taking a high quality probiotic supplement or eating probiotic rich foods, and focusing on sleep. You can read more about other gut healing strategies here.
Taking time out of your day to write down your thoughts is a great way to rationalize those thoughts. So often, we get too caught up in our own minds that we have a hard time realize what thoughts are actually realistic and rational. Writing down what is on our mind is very helpful in this process. In addition, practicing gratitude in journaling is also helpful in reducing stress as it helps us remember all that we have to be grateful for instead of going down the negative path.
Seek Out Help
When in doubt, seek out the help of a counselor or health coach (like me!) to help you on your stress journey. It's not easy, but it's also even harder to go at it alone. I've been there, and I've found the best way to combat stress is to have a team of support on your side to help you through the good times and bad.
Other Strategies to Manage and Reduce Stress:
Book a massage
Hire a housekeeper once a month
Call a friend or write a letter to a friend
Sit outside and get some sunshine (vitamin D is super helpful!)
Take 5 deep belly breaths before each meal or major event of your day
Eliminate negative thinking patterns
Dealing with stress isn't easy, but trust me when I say that your health depends on it. Take it one day at a time, and slowly but surely, you'll find your stress levels going down bit by bit. It won't happen overnight, but it still is possible!