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10 Ways to Calm Yourself and Your Immune System
Whether it’s money, health, family, or job security, it feels like there’s always something to worry about… and that was before our lives changed completely in no time flat.
The increased stress can take a huge toll on your immune system. When you feel stressed, your body releases a surge of chemicals and hormones – like adrenaline and cortisol. And when your system gets flooded with those, it can weaken your immune system.
An over-stressed immune system doesn’t pack the same germ-fighting punch, and that can leave you more vulnerable to anything that’s going around.
And a stressed-out, weakened immune system is the last thing you want when you’re already feeling anxious about everything.
Fortunately, there are a lot of low cost or no-cost things you can do to help yourself calm down – even if that feels impossible right now.
Your Immune System on Stress
Long-term stress – and that means anything longer than a few hours – has an enormously negative impact on your immune system. Among other things, long-term stress:
- Increases body-wide inflammation
- Decreases supplies of germ-fighting blood cells (lymphocytes)
- Makes it harder to fight off infections
- Reduces the protection your immune system normally provides
Weirdly, chronic stress both suppresses the immune response AND triggers immune system overreactions. Sometimes it does one or the other, other times it does both at once. That can leave you struggling with a long-term chronic condition (like heart disease) or an autoimmune condition (like lupus or fibromyalgia)... while at the same time you catch every bug that’s going around.
The best way to avoid those outcomes?: Find ways to reduce the effects of stress. You may not be able to avoid everything that’s stressing you, but you can take steps to limit the toll it takes on your mind and body.
10 Easy Ways to Calm Your System
If you’re feeling overloaded with stress and worry, here are ten simple things you can do today to calm yourself and support your immune system.
- Breathe. Deep, controlled breathing has an immediate calming effect on your nervous system. When you’re feeling highly stressed or emotional, your breathing tends to be quick and shallow. When you slow down and get intentional with your breathing, it sends a “calm down” message to your brain. In turn, your brain then spreads the calming message to your whole body.
The act of focused breathing can significantly reduce the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) circulating around your body. It also helps balance the immune system so it doesn't under-respond or overreact to threats.
You don’t have to follow any complicated protocols. Just pay attention to your breathing and slow it down. Breathe in deeply through your nose, then out through your mouth (ideally, your exhalation should be longer than your inhalation.) Do this whenever you think of it, until it becomes a regular stress-reducing habit.
- Mindful meditation: Meditating for just 10 minutes a few times per week can help reduce stress. It’s been shown in studies to lower cortisol, inflammation, and blood pressure levels. You can find information about mindfulness and meditation along with easy ways to incorporate them into your life at www.mindful.org.
- Practice gratitude: Consciously thinking about things you’re thankful for can reduce your stress levels and improve your mood. Recalling moments, people, pets, and objects that make you happy and feeling thankful for them may have profound effects on your body’s response to stress. Practicing gratitude regularly may even reduce stress physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath.
- Rebalance your gut: Stress throws your gut microbiome (the trillions of bacteria in your gut) out of balance. The stress response can harm your good bacteria (probiotics) and allow the bad bacteria (pathogens) to flourish. This condition is called dysbiosis, and can greatly interfere with your body’s normal stress responses, making it harder for you to calm down. The extra stress leads to an even bigger microbiome imbalance, which disrupts your stress response even more, and results in you feeling more stressed… it’s a very tricky cycle.
Fortunately, you can get better control of your stress and break the stress-gut cycle by rebalancing your gut microbiome. The easiest and best way to support your microbiome is with a proven and effective spore-based probiotic.
- Listen to music: For thousands of years, people have used music to nourish and heal their minds and bodies. Listening to music helps you tap into different emotions and refocus your emotional energy. Studies show that hearing music can reduce cortisol levels and calm your stress response. Music has also been found to improve immune system function and reverse the negative effects of stress.
- Eat calming foods: What you eat can have a huge impact on both your stress response and your immune system. Specific foods, herbs, and spices can help ease stress and calm your immune system.
Examples of calming foods include:
- Brazil nuts
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
Calming herbs and spices include:
- Holy basil
Note: “Comfort foods” are not the same as calming foods. Calming foods contain compounds that actively quiet stress and overactive immune system responses.
- Reboot your focus: When you can’t quiet the stress and anxiety circling in your mind, changing your focus can help. Look around the room for different colored objects (“spot 5 red things and 3 blue things). Hold ice cubes in your hands. Find a “centering object,” like a locket, a smooth stone, or a fidget spinner. Jump up and down. Anything that will shift your focus for even a few moments can help calm your stress… and that will effectively calm your immune system too.
- Take a walk outside: Physical movement combined with fresh air, sunshine, and nature can help you calm down quickly. Walking outside delivers the double effect of relieving stress and boosting immune function. Even a few minutes outside can do wonders for your mood and your overall health.
- Relax your body: When you’re stressed out, your whole body feels it. Your jaw clenches, your neck and shoulders tighten, and your muscles tense up. Your body is locked into physical high alert, so relaxing requires a physiological change.
First step: unclench your jaw.
Step two: drop your shoulders (they’re probably up by your ears).
Step three: try some progressive muscle relaxation. To do this, lie flat on the floor, arms at your sides. Keep your legs uncrossed and your hands open and loose. Focus on your toes and relax them. Work your way up your body (toes, feet, calves, thighs… fingers, arms, shoulders) until every muscle in your body is feeling more relaxed.
- Sniff some lavender: Lavender has well-documented calming effects, especially in the form of its essential oil. Lavender aromatherapy can reduce anxiety even in high stress situations – all it takes is a few drops on your sleeve, pillowcase, or handkerchief. Lavender promotes a sense of calm and well-being. On top of all that, lavender has also been shown to reduce inflammation and support a healthier immune system response.
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