Welcome to Week 5 of our Rock the Walk 2020 Challenge! We’re all about boosting your immunity during this year’s challenge. For this fifth week of our wellness challenge, we’re focusing on STRESS MANAGEMENT and its effects on immunity.
Sometimes, a little stress can do wonders. It can wake you up, sharpen your senses and get your blood pumping. That’s because when something is stressful, your body is programmed to give you an extra boost to help you handle the situation. You’ve probably heard it called “fight-or-flight.”
Stress happens when a situation pushes you beyond your ability to cope with it. When there is a stressful event, or “stressor,” your body reacts with physiological changes, which we’ll call the stress response. Many, many years ago, that stressor might have been a bear running after you. Today, that stressor could be a final exam or bursting water pipe. Your body’s stress response kicks you into high gear to respond to the immediate danger.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate how amazing the human body is. When you experience a stressor, a whole chain of events occurs before you even realize that the situation is stressful. It’s a complex series of events that prompts your body to release a surge of hormones that make physiological changes, including:
The important part of the stress response is that after the stressful event is over, your body recuperates. It’s supposed to be a cycle. After the stressor is gone, your hormone levels return to normal and your body gets back to doing what it needs to do- digesting lunch, fighting viruses, etc. When this is your stress response cycle, stress works like it’s supposed to, and it can even be good for you!
The problem is that stressors today look a lot different than they did when we lived in caves. While short-term stress might be good, long-term stress is definitely not. And, we seem to have more stressors around us than we used to. In fact, 2020 has been an extreme example of modern-day stress with a pandemic, record unemployment, school and business closures and more.
If that one stressful event never goes away, or if you experience one stressor after another, stress hormones continue to flood your system. When that happens for a long period of time:
Any or all of these conditions can lead to illness and disease.
When it comes to your immune system, chronic stress is a problem on multiple levels.
Think about your car engine running in 1st gear at 55 miles an hour. It might be capable of doing that, but the engine will not like it or be able to do that for long. Chronic stress wears down your immune system.
You can’t! We all have stressors in our lives. So what can we do about chronic stress? Believe it or not, we can train ourselves to manage the impact that stress has on us. By doing so, we keep our immune system (and other systems) running strong, efficiently fighting viruses and colds.
When it comes to managing your stress response, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better. Your goal isn’t to avoid stressors but to have ways to complete the stress cycle so that the stress response “turns off” and your body returns to normal.
Think about stress management from two perspectives: 1) Managing stress as it happens and 2) Increasing your overall capacity to handle stress so that fewer things elicit a stress response.
When something stressful happens, your body wants you to be ready to take action. Here are a few things you can do at that moment to help your body complete the stress cycle.
When you’re not in the midst of a stressful situation, take opportunities to create a relaxing environment, a healthy body, and a positive mindset so that you have a greater capacity to handle stressors when they arise.
Managing stress doesn’t mean stopping stress from happening. It doesn’t mean stopping your body from experiencing stress. It means that when your body has a stress response to something, you have ways to relax and turn off the stress response before it turns into chronic stress.
Learning to manage your stress is a great way to give your immune system a boost this winter. Stress is known to increase our vulnerability to illnesses, especially viruses and colds. When you learn to manage stress, you allow your immune system to get back to work doing what it does best.
* Be sure to call 911 if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath, pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, jaw or back pain, sweating, dizziness, or nausea. Your stress may actually be a heart attack.