Stress And Sickness
Over the Christmas break I was knocked down with a chest, throat and ear infection.
Unfortunately I didn’t get them all at the same time, the bugs kept moving around in my respiratory tract so it took 4 weeks to clear. I tried absolutely everything – resting, herbs, nutritional supplements, inhalations, chest rubs, throat sprays, nose sprays, paracetamol and even antibiotics. Yes naturopaths get sick also and yes sometimes we have to resort to antibiotics and over the counter products from the chemist!
If I wasn’t working I was lying on the couch or in bed most of the time asleep. I took time off work initially and that didn’t seem to help either. It probably made it worse. I’m not talking about this for sympathy nor am I the first person to experience this, we have all been there at one point haven’t we?
You know that time you went on holidays, took take time off, hit a quiet period at work, or even when the kids go back to school and you fall sick and it feels like you are going to die as it goes on and on?! It always feels like it hits harder during these times doesn't it?
So why does it happen?
This is our body trying to tell us something, and we all know what that something is but we avoid it, and we continue to avoid it because life is busy, it’s hectic and we push and push ourselves until our body has no option but to sacrifice some of it’s normal functions.
What actually happens?
When our bodies are on the go and life is a little hectic, and we sacrifice our rest or down time, our body then perceives this as stress. We don’t necessarily acknowledge this is stress ourselves but our bodies certainly do. Our body has the same response to physical stress as it does to mental or emotional stress.
Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness as the brain sends defence signals to the endocrine system (hormonal system) when it perceives stress, which then releases an array of hormones that not only gets us ready to fight or to flee from an emergency situation but also severely depresses our immunity at the same time.
The way it does this is by triggering chemical reactions and flooding the body with cortisol that, among other things, decreases inflammation, decreases white blood cells and natural killer cells (both components of our immune system) and increases the rate of infection and tissue damage. Which explains why our bodies fall down as opportunistic infections have the ability to thrive!
So the big question is how do we prevent this from happening?
As a naturopath I would tackle this from a multitude of angles (and did so with my own health): the immune system needs strengthening, improving overall health and wellbeing and support a reduction of stress.
Some of the areas that would be tackled include:
1. Ensure you are exercising (3-4 times a week) to ensure you are physically fit so you are physically strong enough to fight off infections.
2. Eating a diet full of veggies, lean protein and complex carbohydrates to ensure you are giving your body the nutrition it needs to thrive.
3. Eating zinc rich foods which support your immune system - cashews, lentils and other pulses, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, chia seeds or tahini. 4. Allowing time for yourself daily to calm your nervous system, relax and do something for you that you enjoy.
5. Undertaking mindfulness in the form of meditation to calm your mind and lower stress levels.
6. Increasing your social support. It has been shown that having a strong support network reduces the risk of infection and also your stress levels.
7. Get enough good quality sleep. The general recommendation is 7-9 hours per night for adults. Sleep is vital for the function of the immune system as this is the opportunity for your immune function to fight off infection.
8. Get outside and into nature. Not only do you have the benefits of Vitamin D exposure which is supportive for immune function but also studies have shown that being out in nature is calming for our stress levels.
9. Ensure your gut is working optimally as many of our immune cells lie within our digestive system means that if our digestion isn’t optimal, our immune system will be impacted also.
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