Let’s explore the stress-immunity connection and learn a few helpful ways to reduce stress and boost immunity!
Have you ever gotten sick right after a particularly stressful time in your life? If so, you’ve experienced the link between stress and immunity!
Although it’s meant to protect us, stress actually makes us more vulnerable to illness when it lingers for days, months, or even years. With an increasing need to keep our immune systems strong, now is the time to finally overcome chronic stress and find the balance we need not just to survive but thrive.
Understanding how stress and the immune system interact is essential to developing a lifestyle that supports our immune system instead of sabotaging it. Let’s explore the stress-immunity connection and learn a few helpful ways to reduce stress and boost immunity!
Stress and the Immune System
The immune system is designed to be resilient, but certain things can sabotage its natural strength. Among diet, medications, and environmental triggers, stress is one of the most common culprits.
So, how does stress impact the immune system?
- Direct Link: Chronic stress reduces the immune system’s ability to fight off invaders.
Cortisol, or the “stress hormone,” is released when we’re stressed to help us survive a potentially dangerous situation. The body directs most of its energy and resources to the brain, lungs, heart, and skeletal muscles so we can fight, flee, or freeze. After the stressor is gone, our bodies return to their normal relaxed state.
In today’s world, however, our modern lives leave us endlessly stressed. It’s like we’re on a constant drip of cortisol! With cortisol coursing through our bloodstream regularly, the immune system doesn’t get the energy or resources it needs to make lymphocytes (white blood cells) or mount an appropriate immune response. As a result, the immune system function is compromised, and our ability to stay healthy falters.
- Indirect Link: Stress can lead to unhealthy coping habits that undermine the immune system.
The effects of stress directly weaken the immune system’s cells, but it also has some indirect consequences.
Stress is closely linked to unhealthy coping habits. It’s just natural! When we’re stressed, we want to find relief - the faster, the better. Habits like smoking, drinking, or eating sugary treats are indeed quick fixes for stress. Unfortunately, they have negative consequences for the immune system, too.
For instance, smoking has been shown to reduce helpful immune function and exacerbate pathological immune responses (as with autoimmune diseases). Drinking alcohol in excess can diminish your natural immunity and leave you more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. Plus, alcohol damages the gut microbiome, which houses up to 85% of the immune system.
When it comes to sugar, less is best. High spikes in blood sugar temporarily suppress the immune system. A diet high in refined sugar will also cause widespread inflammation that weakens your immune system’s ability to fight.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Stress-Immunity Connection
TCM has a unique concept to describe your defense system called “wei qi.” Wei qi is the energy that travels near the surface of your body to protect and defend against the environment and pathogens. When you first get a cold or the flu, it is your wei qi that battles the invader and tries to prevent it from working deeper into the body.
For practitioners of Chinese medicine, it’s no surprise that stress and immunity are linked. Too much stress can quickly deplete your qi (including wei qi) and reduce your ability to fight off pathogens. Stress also throws a wrench in the Spleen and Stomach systems (your digestive function and energy source) which can lead to fatigue, slow immune response, and general susceptibility to infection.
That’s why reducing stress, protecting your qi, and supporting a healthy immune function is at the root of nearly every acupuncture treatment at Calm San Diego, no matter what your main complaint is! Acupuncture and Chinese medicine shine when it comes to keeping our mental health in check and reducing the adverse effects of stress and anxiety (including a weakened immune system).
4 Tips to Reduce Stress and Boost Immunity
You’re only as strong as your immune system. Challenge yourself to take on these four simple habits to build your qi reserves, strengthen your immunity, and stay resilient!
- Make food your medicine.
Food has the power to heal - or the power to hurt. To protect your immunity, avoid junk food and sugar and fill up on whole foods. Focus on seasonal produce and try to eat a wide variety of colors to get the most nutrients and vitamins. How you cook your food matters, too. In fall and winter, focus on warming soups, grain porridges, and cooked meat and veggies. This type of cooking makes digestion easy work on your Spleen and Stomach and boosts your overall qi.
- Exercise regularly.
It’s natural to feel a little lazier in the colder months, but a little physical activity goes a long way for your immunity. Studies show that regular exercise effectively strengthens your immune system and reduces your risk of illnesses (including Covid-19).
What kinds of exercise will boost your immunity best? Anything that gets your heart pumping and melts your stress. Running, yoga, tai chi, dance, cycling, and hiking are all great for stress relief and immune health.
- Sip on immune tonics.
If you rely on coffee to help you manage your daily stressors, consider swapping a few javas for an immune-boosting tonic. While coffee can help focus your mind and even contains helpful antioxidants, you can have too much of a good thing. Stick to one cup daily, then support your mind, body, and immunity with a tonic tea instead.
Teas containing ginger, licorice root, turmeric, lemongrass, or green tea are high in antioxidants and help support your immune system. Or, consider buying a pre-formulated Chinese herbal tonic tea.
- Practice healing self-care.
These days, self-care isn’t just a nice treat; it’s a non-negotiable daily habit if you want to live a balanced, healthy life. We all need self-care to decompress, de-stress, and feel our best. To both ease stress and strengthen the immune system, try self-care hobbies that have strong healing effects. Here are a few of my favorite ways to unwind:
- An evening bath with eucalyptus Epsom salt
- Gratitude journaling with a cup of chamomile tea
- Self-foot massage while listening to an immune-boosting meditation or music
- Bi-weekly acupuncture to stay balanced - mind, body, and spirit!
Relieve Stress, Feel Resilient
There’s no question - stress and immunity are intricately linked. To properly prevent seasonal illnesses and disease, we need to address stress head-on.
At Calm, you’ll find all the tools and support you need to manage your stress naturally. From acupuncture to Chinese herbal medicine to stress and anxiety management support, we’re here for you!
Don’t let stress leave you feeling blue and under the weather. Schedule your visit to Calm today!