How to Fight Stress and Keep Your Immune System Healthy
Stress is an unavoidable part of life.
Sometimes, such as when you have an important presentation at work, it’s not a bad thing to be keyed up. But when demands pile up at work or home and make it hard to relax, these hassles can impact your immune system.
It’s believed that stress causes health issues for 43% of adults, and that up to 90% of visits to the doctor are for stress-related complaints.
But how does stress affect your immune system, and how can you reduce the negative effects? Read on to find out.
What is stress and how is it caused?
We’ve all heard that stress can make us sick. “I’m feeling stressed” is a common refrain, but what does that really mean?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Women’s Health) defines stress as “a feeling you get when faced with a challenge.” Meanwhile, the American Institute of Stress states: “Stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is a subjective sensation associated with varied symptoms that differ for each of us.”
Whilst people react differently to different things, there are some common causes of stress. Most people feel stressed at certain events or situations, including:
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Financial worries
- Major illness or injury
How stress affects you, and the consequences of long-term and chronic stress
Imagine that a car is speeding towards you.
Your heart rate and blood pressure soar as your body produces a surge of adrenaline and cortisol that signals you to get out of the way. In this case, stress is a good thing, allowing you to take evasive action and avoid injury.
Your body naturally reacts to stressors such as anxiety or danger by a series of nerve and hormonal signals that release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol; the so-called “fight-or-flight” response. Adrenaline raises blood pressure and increases your heart rate, while cortisol suppresses nonessential functions and enhances your brain’s use of glucose. Hormone levels drop back to normal when a threatening event is over.
While stress like this is critical for survival, hundreds of clinical studies have shown that staying keyed up is linked to numerous health issues, including reduced immune function.
Stress can lead to several physical and emotional issues, including:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Sleep problems and insomnia
- Muscle pain and tension headaches
- Loss of libido or sex drive
- Loss of motivation
- Irritability and anger build up
- Low mood and depression
Because of these responses, you may find your behavior changes. For example, you may become more angry and aggressive towards others. You might also start to adopt unhealthy habits, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, eating too much (or not enough), and neglecting exercise.
Some people become withdrawn when stressed, reducing their interaction with others and bottling their emotions up. Studies have shown that stress can have huge implications on your immune system and overall wellbeing.
In a review conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, psychological stress was found to disrupt communication between the nervous-endocrine systems and the immune system. And in other research, modifications to immune system measurements were found in survivors four months after Hurricane Andrew and in hospital employees several months after the devastating Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, California.
Quick and simple tips for fighting stress
It’s one thing to feel stressed, but another to know how to fight it. There are varying levels of stress, but taking some time out of your day to try one of the following activities might help to give you some respite.
- Breathe! Close your eyes for a few moments and take slow, deep breaths
- Try some aromatherapy. Essential oils such as lavender have been tested to reduce stress levels
- Get outside. Take a step out and look up at the sky. And breathe!
- Read a novel. Being in another world can take you away from your stress for a while
- Turn off the TV. It may seem relaxing, but too much stimulation can overexcite your nervous system and make it harder to de-stress
- Go for a short walk. Or if you have time to get more exercise, even better! Do your favorite workout as often as you can
- If you feel overwhelmed with things to do, make a list. Then cross off each item as it’s accomplished
- Give a hug, get a hug! Family and friends love a good hug. And connecting with those you love is a simple way to reduce stress
These quick and simple tips will hopefully take your mind away from the pressures you’re under and help to ease your stress levels.
But it’s not always that easy…
Longer term stress reduction techniques
Sometimes it feels as though the world is against you, and there’s seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.
If stress is threatening to take a stranglehold over your life, there are some behavioural and lifestyle steps you can take to control and reduce it.
When you’re stressed, it’s tempting to eat comfort foods. While you should treat yourself from time to time, too much fat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can be detrimental to your overall health.
Instead, try to eat a balanced diet that provides the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to fight a flagging immune system. For an additional boost to your natural defenses, incorporate Airborne Plus Beta-Immune Booster into your daily routine*.
Try to keep a routine of getting the amount of sleep you know you need (usually 7 to 9 hours). That may not always be possible, especially if stress wakes you up at night or prevents you from falling asleep.
To help you sleep better when you’re under stress*, consider Schiff Knock-Out Tablets with Melatonin, Theanine & Valerian. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland that sets your body’s biological clock and initiates sleep. Darkness stimulates the pineal gland and causes it to produce more melatonin, while daylight stops your body’s production of melatonin. Taking melatonin at bedtime may help to promote healthy sleep patterns*. Schiff Knock-Out Tablets also contain theanine, a natural compound found in green tea, which may help to reduce stress.
Up your exercise levels
As well as improving your physical wellbeing, aerobic exercises such as running, cycling and swimming can also help your mental health. The sense of achievement from completing a workout can bring a renewed positivity, and exercise also reduces levels of the stress hormones cortisol, whilst at the same time boosting production of feel-good, mood-boosting chemicals known as endorphins.
If you currently lead a sedentary lifestyle, try to gently increase your physical activity and see how it helps to reduce your stress levels.
The stress-reducing power of nature
Connecting with nature is a powerful de-stressor. Everyone has his or her favorite places – perhaps a beach, a park, or just the backyard of your home. Try to get to a favorite place for a walk. If you can’t get there, look at pictures and then close your eyes and imagine that you’re there.
Sometimes just looking at the sunlit sky, the moon or the stars helps us connect with the world and makes us feel better. Try incorporating this into your daily routine; a walk in the fresh air at lunchtime might just help to clear your head and ease some of your worries.
Get a pet or volunteer at an animal shelter
Animals are another part of nature that we can connect to every day. Studies suggest that petting or stroking animals can have a soothing effect, helping to release oxytocin and reduce cortisol levels related to stress.
If your situation allows, a pet may be just the company you need to lift your mood. An animal such as a dog can also increase your own exercise levels as you take it for daily walks.
Even if you don’t have the space at home to keep your own pets, you can still connect with the animal world by perhaps volunteering at a local pet shelter for a few hours. They’ll be grateful for your assistance, and helping the animals may help to reduce your stress levels.
Get the support you need
No matter what the reason, we all get stressed from time to time. If you feel that your stress is becoming too much to bear, try some of the tips in this article, and don’t be afraid to speak to loved ones or your doctor to get the support you need.
Be sure to take care of yourself. And remember; things can always get better.
 Mayo Clinic (2016) Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior