Why do we get sick when we are stressed?
Your Body & Stress: A Three Part Series (1 of 3)
Everyday in my practice I ask my patients about their stress; what are their particular stressors and how are they coping? I’m interested in knowing how they perceive stress and spend time educating them on how it can negatively impact their health. This allows me to help them create a plan to support their body through stressful times and improve their health and well being.
Stress comes in all kinds of situations in our lives, from an acutely stressful situation (losing a job, losing a loved one, a car accident, etc.) to chronic low-grade stressors like sitting in traffic while you’re late for work, constantly performing to meet deadlines. On top of these external stressors we also need to account that our lifestyle can be stressful for our bodies too: not getting adequate quality sleep, eating on the run or not eating the right foods for our bodies.
When we add up all these little stressors over time, it builds up and can be detrimental to our health. Our stress response is how our body adapts to stress. It’s actually a good thing and our stress response saves our lives and helps us perform better and change to stressors. It’s when we are constantly challenging and pushing our stress response that it can negatively impact our health.
Over the next three blogs I’m going to discuss stress and how it relates to a specific body system (Immune System, Digestive System & Endocrine [Hormone] System). Understanding how it can negatively affect our health can be helpful in implementing simple lifestyle changes to help better manage our stress response and take better care of our bodies. Today we will start with the Immune System.
Do you ever notice that you or the ones around you seem to always catch a bug during periods of higher stress or right after? As we are in our busiest season, when it’s least convenient or right before your vacation the second you give your body a chance to recover, we succumb to the virus that’s been floating around. This is because chronic stress has been demonstrated to exert a significant suppressive effect on immune function (Hu, D. et al). As we move through our busy lives and encounter stressor after stressor, our bodies release cortisol. Cortisol is essential to life and we need it, but if it’s released too much or for too long, it suppresses our immune system and these can leave us vulnerable to acquiring the common cold or flu.
So what can you do to help your immune system during times of high or prolonged stress?
3 Tips You Can Do Today To Help Your Immune System:
- Get adequate sleep
- Proper sleeps allows our bodies to repair and regenerate
- Aim for 8-10 hours per night
- Ensure your sleeping in a dark room
- Eliminate Sugar from your diet
- Sugar suppresses our immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to catching the common cold or flu
- Sugar decreases our immune response
- Can cause energy spikes and crashes, leaving you feeling more tired and stressed.
- Find time for Exercise
- Helps to boost your immune system
- Acts as a natural stress reducer
Try and implement one of these tips each week to support your immune system and to help increase your bodies own positive stress response. If you want more stress busting tips stay tuned for the next two blogs exploring how stress affects our digestive tract and hormones. Both will include more tips on how you can support your body through periods of stress.
Best in Health,