"I've been worried sick"
We’ve all heard or used the term’ I was worried sick’ probably without even realising the strength of the evidence behind these seemingly glib words. Over recent years, research has shown that persistent negative emotions - such as stress and worry- can increase risk for a number of chronic diseases including asthma, cancer and heart disease
Stress versus your immune system
Since the onset of the C word, as a nation we have become increasingly focused on the importance of our immune systems. Sales of vitamins have skyrocketed as people have looked for any way they can to support themselves and the cells of their immune system in this sea of uncertainty. But is there really a connection between your immune system and stress? A study published in 2004 looked at almost 300 studies published over the last 30 years and the results confirmed that it looks like you can really worry yourself sick. The results showed a clear association between stress and the ‘dysregulation’ of our immune system.
When your immune system gets really p**d off
Dysregulation-what does that actually mean? Long term, or chronic, stress alters how your immune system functions and not in a good way. Researchers have found a further link between stress and a number of auto immune conditions (AID) including Inflammatory Bowel Disease and coeliac disease. An AID is where your immune system actually attacks itself and causes damage to healthy cells resulting in symptoms of a number of different conditions.
But we are in a global stress pandemic- what can we do?
Well here is the good news, we can address our stress and use everyday ways to reduce the impact stress has on our minds and bodies, including on our immune system. By accepting and acknowledging that stress is part of our everyday lives we can adjust our habits accordingly. Having strategies to manage stress has never been more important than right now. The weird way our brains work under stress is that we are programmed to self sabotage- the more stressed we are the more likely we are to eat junk, drink more alcohol, exercise less and have poor sleep patterns. Which of course just adds fuel to an already burning fire.
My strategy? Keep it simple
Take Time Everyday to-
Switch off social media- consciously take some time off from social media, even if it is only for a short period.
Take time out to get outside every day. Layer up with a sweater, don’t let the weather be an excuse to not get some fresh air.
Read - engaging your brain in something other than the news or work emails is important for your brain
Eat better- you know what I mean- whether it is drinking more water, an extra portion of veg or cutting back on the biscuits, there is usually something we can do to improve what is on our plate.
Supplement - with Vitamin D, 10mcg daily for adults over 18yrs to support our immune system
Shake it off- get moving, indoors, outdoors- even just a few minutes will get those feel good endorphins going
Mindfulness practice, relaxation and CBT has been shown to improve immune function. Yes actually improve how our the cells in our immune system do their job. A study looked at patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer and evaluated the outcomes in immune function in a group that engaged in an 8 week mindfulness based stress reduction programme versus those that did not (the control group). The women who had engaged on this 8 week programme versus this control group , showed a decrease in perceived stress, fatigue, sleep problems and depressive symptoms. On further analysis of key markers of immune function within their blood samples, researchers saw a significant improvement in beneficial markers of their immune function. Pretty impressive I think.
So yes, we can unworry ourselves well, or better at least….
Dr Clara Russell
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