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Chronic stress suppresses the immune system, and in this current global pandemic anxiety, worry, concern, apprehension, strain, or stress are all emotions based on fear of something. Unfortunately, any fear or perceived threat to safety activates our Sympathetic Nervous System and can over the long-term cause havoc with our health.

How stress lowers the immune system

Above all, it is important to stay healthy or build health to be more resistant to contracting an illness. Besides, in case I get sick I can have fewer symptoms and a shorter duration. You can buy all the recommended nutrients for a good immune system, but it won’t do anything if your stress levels are out of control. With a stressful situation, the body cannot differentiate between the stress of surviving a burning building or the stress of enduring slow internet.

Stress response

The immediate response is the release of adrenaline (the scientific name is norepinephrine), which works as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone.

1. Adrenaline as a neurotransmitter: it releases this into the skeletal muscle which allows for the fight-or-flight response.

2. Adrenaline as a hormone: released from the adrenal medulla and sent throughout the body.

Stress and Adrenaline

This adrenaline surge leaves you feeling good: highly aware with a rational mind, physically strong, and able to take action quickly. It also affects increased heart rate and perspiration. Adrenaline sends blood to skeletal muscles and restricts blood to our digestive system, thus lowering our digestive capability. Adrenaline throughout the body also delays wound healing, showing the immune system involvement [1].

Stress and HPA axis

You may have heard of the Sympathetic Nervous system and the HPA axis. The Sympathetic Nervous System is the branch of our Autonomic Nervous System responsible for our “fight or flight” response. While the HPA (Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal) Axis regulates the Sympathetic Nervous system. If there is an event, then the chain of reaction the body goes through is what allows us to survive the situation.

  1. The Hypothalamus sends a specific message by releasing the Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) to the Pituitary gland.

  2. This causes the Pituitary gland to send a message by releasing Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)

  3. ACTH stimulates the Adrenal cortex to release cortisol. Unlike adrenalin, cortisol’s effect is a slower release, like a dense log in a fire: it takes longer to catch on fire and releases heat slowly over a longer time.

The body naturally releases cortisol in response to:

  • Low blood sugar

  • Stress

  • Trauma

  • Burns

  • Surgery

Cortisol released into the body causes:

  • increased blood sugar by gluconeogenesis (this is where fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are all converted into glucose to meet the increased needs required to survive)

  • decreases inflammation (it stops the production of eicosanoids, which is an immune system mediator necessary in the immune response and healing of wounds [2])

Ongoing daily stress

 Long-term activation of the Sympathetic nervous system leads to high blood pressure, digestive problems, and suppression of the immune system.

The immune system works together with the nervous and endocrine systems [3]. In fact, all body systems work together. Chronic stress and immunosuppression affect women in particular [4]. Women with higher cortisol levels have impaired memory and slight brain shrinkage [5]. Being in a chronic state of increased blood sugar thanks to cortisol leads to type II diabetes, depression, obesity, and cardiovascular disease [6]. If you think browsing Facebook is relaxing, then consider a recent study which associated Facebook induced anxiety with a lower immune system [7]. 

What can we do for stress?

Below is a list of ideas to break the cycle of chronic stress. We can do some at home, and others may require professional help. The world is quickly changing to a new normal. I am conducting all Naturopathic Consults online, so both my husband and I are working from home. I have been home-schooling my kids (again, so it’s nothing unusual for us), we have been doing HIIT exercises together, and having all our meals together at the dinner table (without devices mostly). Now is the perfect time to implement regular strategies that you can stick to in your new normal.

Tips:

  • Meditation: if you are new to meditation, then consider a guided meditation app. I like https://synctuition.com/ which has free programs.

  • Mindfulness: being present to your environment, whether that be your loved ones or the food you are eating; enjoy each moment

  • Talk to a friend: sometimes it is good to unload onto a friend and talk things out

  • Counselling: sometimes you need some helpful strategies to get you through. There are online sources available like https://www.beyondblue.org.au/https://mensline.org.au/, or https://www.headspace.com/

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit

  • Take B vitamins to support the nervous system

  • Herbal medicine for adrenal and nervous system support; depending on the individual book in for a Naturopathic Consult

  • Bach Flower essences for emotional support; Here https://www.facebook.com/truwellness.com.au/

  • Timeline Therapy to release the negative emotion of fear around the novel virus; this can help https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WIwRHbPguU or contact me

  • Relaxing music

  • Exercise: daily movement is important. I enjoy using the free app called Interval Timer - HIIT Training.

  • Laughter: zoom your friend or family, or watch a good comedy on Netflix.

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