We’re living in a very stressful time. We’re busy, we work a lot, we worry a lot, and we usually put ourselves last. The world has changed so much in the past year. Whatever stresses we have in normal times, the pandemic has only magnified. However, there’s one crucial thing we need to remember—stress interferes with our immune system. So, if you learn how to reduce stress, then you can also boost your immunity naturally. Read on to learn how.
- What Is Stress?
- What Stress Does to Your Immune System
- How to Reduce Stress
What Is Stress?
When we’re stressed, we know it, but defining it can be hard. Usually, when we think about stress, we imagine certain events or situations that feel overwhelming or put pressure on us.
It’s difficult to find a definition for stress in medical terms, and many professionals in the healthcare industry argue about whether stress is the result of people’s problems or the cause of it. One way to manage stressful moments is to recognize the stressful situations, if they’re happening to you often.
By understanding what causes your stress, you’re halfway to learning how to manage it better. You can also develop your emotional resilience so you feel emotionally ready and prepared to combat stress when it does come.
Stress in itself is not a medical issue, but it can cause medical issues and mental health problems, which makes managing it even more important. It is often a trigger for anxiety and depression. On another note, the fact that stress causes anxiety and depression in the first place can also be stressful and invite more stress into your daily life.
Stress also affects your physical state, with the immune system being one of the first things it attacks.
What Stress Does to Your Immune System
Our immune system is our defence against all kinds of viruses and bacteria that can cause both mild and serious health issues. The immune system is composed of millions of white blood cells—our own soldiers.
It doesn’t make sense that our immune system can be compromised by stress, but that’s the reality. Stress creates a specific hormone in our bodies called cortisol, which suppresses the immune system’s effectiveness when it fights off bacteria and viruses. Cortisol interferes with the communication between white blood cells and lowers the number of lymphocytes present in the blood.
When a person’s illness is stress related, it can be very difficult for them to recover. The sickness is usually caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Our body’s immune system works like a machine, following commands and adapting to new circumstances.
When cortisol levels are heightened for a longer period of time (more than a few days), our nervous system adapts to this new normal and begins to produce more cortisol hormones, compromising the immune system. Irritability, anger, frustration, anxiety, panic attacks, and racing thoughts are often accompanying symptoms.
Oftentimes, people with this condition can resort to unhealthy habits that can further compromise the immune system. Smoking, drinking, and drug use are just a few of the habits people tend to develop.
Some of the signs of low immunity may vary, but most common are swollen lymph nodes, frequent cold sores, and chronic conditions. However, there are many things you can incorporate into your daily routine to handle stress.
How to Reduce Stress
For people already struggling with stress, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the stress worse. Thankfully, you have some choice in how it affects you. You can choose not to watch the news or social media for a while. It can be overwhelming when everyone is telling their truths, and though that is important, so is your mental and physical health. Also, always fact-check the information you’re served. You would be surprised by how many people misunderstand information they find and then just pass it along as truth. Follow the World Health Organization and other relevant sources when it comes to the pandemic.
You can also try some of the following stress reduction techniques to boost your immune system:
Exercising is known to produce happy hormones, called endorphins, which in turn lower cortisol levels. Exercising can also improve your mood and sleep while combating pain.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep is vital for your body to function properly. Six to eight hours is always a good amount of sleep to shoot for and remember to cut out caffeine in the afternoon to make falling asleep easier.
This might sound like a joke, considering the current pandemic restrictions and precautions, but it’s not. Go visit your friends and family. As long as you’re socially distanced and wearing masks, the health risks will be minimal and you’ll strengthen your mental health and fuel your batteries with feel-good hormones.
4. Prioritize and stop procrastinating
Having a schedule and prioritizing tasks can help you stay on top of everything. Procrastination can really lower your motivation and will to keep progressing.
Although this one might sound like something you’d do in elementary school, journaling can be so relaxing. Dumping your thoughts on a piece of paper can be such a motivator, and increased clarity is practically guaranteed.
6. Do yoga and meditate
Yoga and meditation are great ways to fight off depression and anxiety. Practice daily, even if it’s just for five minutes. It will help you gain control of your thoughts, teach you how to focus on your breath, and have a positive impact on your overall well-being.
7. Get up early
You might love sleeping in, but getting up around six in the morning, or even earlier, will help you get on with your day more easily. Set aside a half-hour before everyone else gets up and practice mindfulness. Do your yoga (try Pranayama Yoga techniques), meditate, or even just journal—whatever fits you best. The most important thing is having this time set apart for you and you only.
If your stress level is so high that it’s affecting your immunity and mental health, try some of these techniques to reduce stress and increase your well-being.