What Everyone Needs to Know About Stress and the Immune System

photo by: Matthew Henry

We’ve heard it before: Stress is like kryptonite to our health, particularly our immune system. The more we’re able to reduce stress, to even avoid entirely (yes, it’s totally possible…. I’m going to show you how), the stronger your immune system will be and the more resilient you’ll be overall.

Usually this is where I write about nutrition, food, recipes… all the things on that level to optimize health. I’m all about it, as you can tell, but one of the most important things I’ve learned is this…

You can eat all the broccoli, mushrooms, superfoods, whatever… and if you’re stressed out, it’s not gonna do you any good.

Stress will suck it all up.

It will steal every last one of those well meaning nutrients and then some.

You can be doing all. the. things. And stress will still kill you. 

I should know… I mean, well, let me back up, it hasn’t killed me. Though at one time I was known to (figuratively) kill myself trying to do the whole eating thing perfectly.

When I first started changing my diet to reduce inflammation and heal my autoimmune disease my singular focus was on avoiding the foods my doctors told to stay away from: gluten, dairy, soy, among others.

And all that avoidance, fretting, PERFECTION, I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was creating a huge amount of stress.

The stress was negating all my best efforts.

I see now so clearly, that opposition – the stress – kept me stuck, spinning my wheels, not making near the progress I am now… knowing what I know now. And taking a different approach. The approach I guide my clients to take too.

This is why I’m writing about the S-word today. Because with what’s going on with COVID-19 right now, we can be taking all the vitamin C and zinc and doing all the things… and if we’re letting the stress get the better of us… well you know what I’m about to say…

I always find it helpful to understand the why. Something about know what’s happening in the body, the impact that has on our organs and systems, knowing why makes it easier to just do it. You know what I mean?

So, today I want to share some background on what happens inside our bodies when we’re stressed and what that means for our immune system.

Fight or Flight vs. Rest and Digest

The most important thing to know is the human body, just like most animals, operates in 2 modes: flight or flight (or more scientifically – sympathetic) and rest and digest (parasympathetic).

These 2 modes are just as they sound. Fight or flight is our stress response. It’s our survival mode – the one we need when we must run for our lives because we are in imminent danger. Like way back when our prehistoric ancestors needed to run from a tiger.

the stress response

In fight our flight…

cortisol (the stress hormone) spikes. The heart races, pumps blood out away from internal organs, out to the arms and legs – cause you know… RUN.

All the body’s energy and efforts are focused on one thing: survival. Everything else… digestion, immunity, detoxification, reproduction can go on the back burner…

Cause who needs to digest a cheeseburger if you’re about to get eaten by a tiger? Soon it’ll be the tiger’s problem anyway!

Same goes for fighting off a virus… if you’re about to get eaten by a tiger he’ll be the one to deal with it…

See how everything else gets de-prioritized when the body’s in fight-or-flight?

Now here’s the problem though, today we don’t have to worry about running from tigers.

We don’t live in caves and tigers aren’t so much a threat these days…

Our world has evolved but this biological mechanism hasn’t so much. 

Whether it’s a tiger, or morning traffic jam, or that email from your boss, or an argument with a husband/wife, or the looming deadline… even what’s in our social media feed, on the TV… … to our body it’s all the same.

They can all trigger the same physiological response.

And the real problem: “tigers” today are everywhere.

We get no break.

Our fight or flight response is meant to be fleeting. It should turn on and just as quickly turn off.

Have you ever seen an animal run from a predator? Maybe on one of those National Geographic shows…

They run and then when they’re out of danger, their bodies shake.

That shake is how they release the stress, the trauma from what their body just went through.

And it’s part of what gets them back into the state that’s meant to be where we spend the majority of our time…

This is the other part of our problem… we never release the stress either.

In Rest and Digest…

everything’s the opposite. There’s no threat. No cortisol spike throwing hormones out of whack. Blood is pumped as it should be to vital organs to support every day bodily functions: digestion, immunity, detoxification, reproduction.

This is supposed to be our M.O…. in other words, how we spend the majority of our time.

This is the mode where we digest our food with full force and are able to fully extract all the nutrients we need from it. Have strong immunity to protect us against viruses and infection. Detox like a champ. And our bodies sense that the environment is a safe one to bring new life into it.

OK, now that you understand how the two modes work…

Do you see how STRESS can override everything?

How stress zaps immunity…

sets the stage for digestive distress – indigestion, reflux, bloating, etc….

and even affects fertility…

All of this to say, getting our stress levels in check is THE most important thing we can do for our health.

And, when I say get stress in check I’m not talking about a list of ways to reduce stress like taking a bubble bath, going for a walk or deep breathing… These are great, don’t get me wrong…

If you haven’t gotten to the root of what’s CAUSING the stress though, it’s just gonna come right back. 

Stress relievers can be like a bandaid… or like popping an Advil to relieve the pain. You can do it, and get temporary relief, though the stress will still be there ready to come back.

The same way I help folks get to the root of what’s causing their symptoms or dis-ease, we have to approach stress the same way and get to the root of what’s causing the stress in the first place. 

That’s what we’re gonna delve into next… stay tuned. I have so much more for you on this.

In the meantime, I’d love to know…

What Do You Think?

Did you find this interesting? Are you like, ah-ha it all makes so much sense!?
Are you like me and does knowing the why and how somehow make you feel more motivated to make a change?

What did you takeaway and what are you inspired to do from here?

I’ll be back next week with the next part of this to talk all about how we get to the root of our stress and how we can change it at the most fundamental and powerful level.

This is gonna be a good one.

What’s the Root of Your Stress?

The same way I help folks get to the root of what’s causing their symptoms or dis-ease, we have to approach stress the same way and get to the root of what’s causing the stress in the first place. 

Want to learn more? First step is always a free strategy session to help you get started, regardless if we decide to work together or not. Schedule your free session with me here.

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