Would it surprise you to hear that stress lowers the immunes system and makes us more susceptible to illness… like Covid 19?
We have heard how stress affects health from the news, from healthcare professionals, social media and research about what impacts health and longevity.
But, did you know that emotions like fear, shame and guilt can also lower your immune system? These are low vibrational emotions that produce the same hormonal and neurochemical response in the body as chronic stress.
Think about what is happening in the world right now. There is conflicting information about COVID and treatments, news reporting about “death tolls”, “warnings” and mandates along with the reactive policymaking and the “shaming” of people choosing not to get vaccinated. The mask is a perpetual reminder and trigger of fear; a symbol of uncertainty and danger. It is all creating an environment swirling with fear. There is fear on both sides of the COVID debates; fear of COVID and fear of vaccination. Whether or not the fears are justified or rational, the impact on the body and immune system is the same.
In all of our quest to stay safe and healthy, this pervasive fear and worry is actually taking us away from this goal.
Here are some facts about how stress affects us:
- It lowers the immune system by releasing hormones like cortisol into the body. Cortisol decrease white blood cell production (needed to fight off illness) and stress activates hormones which increase cellular replication and inflammation.
- It decreases brain function, interfering with decision making and problem solving as well as focus and attention. Cortisol is neuro-toxic meaning it damages the brain. When we are in “fight or flight’, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, our reactive, lower brain is in charge, shutting off our higher, more rational brain.
- It impairs digestion which impairs our ability to get nutrients we need to help our immune system and body’s response to stress. The gut plays a pivotal role in the immune system as well as mood.
- It disrupts emotional regulation and stability. Again, this is the fight or flight response that perpetuates the “danger” and fear signal in our brain which can lead to what John Kabat-Zinn calls “Full Catastrophe Living”. This leads to anxiety, fear and worry on a constant feedback loop in the brain, a stress spin.
Great, you might be thinking… how do I manage the stress and not succumb to fear with all that is going on around me?
First and foremost… consciously, purposely calm yourself down. Press the pause button and BREATHE. Reset the nervous system with five to six slow, deep breaths. Focus on relaxing your muscles and tuning into your body in the moment.
This is mindfulness based stress reduction, pioneered by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn. He wrote, Full Catastrophe Living, recognizing the link between the pain, illness and disease patients faced and the reactive stress response from catastrophic thinking or “worst case scenario” thinking. He found mindfulness, or the practice of paying attention, on purpose, to experiences as they unfold in the moment without judgment or attachment, actually helps activate the relaxation response, reduces perception of pain, and improves health and wellbeing.
When we take a moment to pause and focus on the present moment, we can realize that we are safe in this moment. We can reset the stress response and access our rational mind. We can shift our focus from the past or the future, where we do NOT have any control, to the present moment where we do. In the present moment, we can control of our thoughts, our choices, our actions and our reactions. We cannot control outcomes, or other people, yet this is where we tend to focus our energy and attention.
To shift out of fear, focus on what you can do, what choices you can make for your own health and wellbeing. Let go of judging or condemning others as they are not within your control. Tune in to what you know, what you feel and what you believe to be true for you and your family, not what others are telling you.
Your body was created to have balance, health and a strong immune system to protect you. Take back your power over your own health by doing all you can do to support your mind, body and spirit. Take your energy away from what other people are doing and focus it on what you can control, you and only you.
Here are my Top 10 things you can do to take back your power over your life:
- Be in the NOW. Let go of the past and do not worry about the future. What you do now will impact future outcomes, but your control is only in the no
- Eat less sugar and more fruits and vegetables. Sugar stresses the body and affects gut health while fruits and vegetables improve gut health and contains nutrients to fuel and support your body and immune system. (Vitamin C, Zinc, Resveratrol and Vitamin D in particular)
- Drink less alcohol and sugary drinks and more water.
- Take more pauses, mindful moments, particularly before you speak, before you act and before you react to others.
- Move your body more, on purpose, every day and reduce sedentary time. Movement helps with circulation and lymphatic drainage.
- Get outside more. Nature and fresh air help boost moods and improves oxygenation. (Nature’s filter!)
- Prioritize good sleep. Lack of sleep stresses the body. Your body does most of its healing work as you sleep like release cytokines to reduce inflammation and fight off illness.
- Laugh and play more. Laughter and play enhance relaxation, boost mood and mitigate the stress response.
- Open your heart and let it guide you with compassion. Forgive more and judge less, as we are all trying to navigate life, feel important and purposeful while seeking safety and security. Try to see the big picture, beneath the surface before you judge or condemn.
- Trust yourself more and fear less. Integrate the head, the heart and the gut, using intuition to make the best decision for you and your wellbeing. Overthinking bypasses the gut and the heart and creates more stress.
You have the power to be health and well. Your choices are your super power. Will you choose to surrender your power to fear or will you take back your power and trust that you have all you need to be safe and well in the moment? Letting go of fear, letting go of judgment, shame or guilt and calming the nervous system is an amazing step towards strengthening your immune system and trusting your body to do what it is meant to do… keep you safe and well.
Stay tuned for an upcoming FREE Mastermind Class on How to Find Calm in the Chaos of Life this March.