If you face frequent anxiety and chronic stress, do you find yourself feeling tired often? Do you seem to catch every little cold or other bugs that come along?
You may just assume that you naturally have a weaker immune system than some people. But chances are, your weak immune response isn’t due to genetics. Rather, it could well be a result of the very real effects that anxiety and stress have on your physical body.
How Does Anxiety Lower Immune Function?
It can be easy to miss the connection between anxiety, chronic stress, and lowered immune function. Many people tend to think of anxiety as being in the thoughts and mind, not playing out in the physical body.
Likewise, our society is prone to viewing chronic stress as normal and a reality of modern life. While some stress is important to keep you motivated (this is sometimes called good stress, or eustress), chronic stress isn’t healthy.
Anxiety and chronic stress cause the endocrine system to live in a perpetual state of “fight, flight, or freeze,” aka as stress or trauma physiology. Your body is trying to keep itself prepared and protected from perceived danger. The endocrine system releases stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, to increase alertness and readiness.
However, when you struggle with anxiety, those stress hormones are constantly being pumped into your system so the body can never return to a settled, relaxed state. And when cortisol levels remain high, your immune system weakens and inflammation levels go up.
The more you understand how anxiety and stress work, though, the more empowered you can be to take effective action. There are helpful steps you can take to boost your immune system and lower your cortisol levels.
Practice the 4 S’s to Decrease Anxiety and Boost Your Immune System
1. Sleep and Sleep Hygiene
Sleep experts recommend a number of strategies for good sleep hygiene. These include maintaining a regular sleep routine.
Hands down, restful sleep is hugely helpful in both decreasing anxiety and supporting your immune system to operate optimally. However, if you struggle with anxiety, you are likely familiar with insomnia and sleep disruptions. The idea of being able to regularly achieve a good night’s sleep may even seem laughable. But adequate sleep is attainable and is vital to support your immune system.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time, no matter if it’s the weekend.
- Avoid caffeine after noon, or even completely.
- Decrease and avoid blue light from electronics in the evenings.
- Keep your room cool at night and use light-blocking blinds to keep it as dark as possible.
- And only use your room for sleep–not as an office, playroom, etc.
With time, your sleep quality will improve, and so will your immune system and your sense of well-being.
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, several supplements are known for their ability to lower stress and anxiety and boost the immune system.
I’m a big believer in supplementation. Here’s what I recommend to clients to support a stronger immune system:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Magnesium citrate.
To support sleep, rest and mood, I recommend:
- Valerian root
- Lemon balm
- Fish oil/ Omegas
Lastly, much has been learned about the gut brain connection, especially as it concerns mood. Taking a probiotic is also encouraged.
As always, check with your healthcare provider to make sure these are safe to take with prescription medicines or other health concerns you may have.
3. Social Connectedness
Humans are designed for social connection. Even the most introverted among us benefit from meaningful connection and closeness. Social closeness increases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that reduces stress. Staying connected socially has also been shown to help regulate your nervous system better. When your nervous system is better regulated, anxiety goes down and immune functioning goes up
With COVID-19 still an issue, social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Depending on where you live, you may be able to meet outdoors with friends. Video chats, messaging, and phone calls are also good ways to stay in touch.
4. Silliness and Play
When was the last time you laughed until you cried? When did you let your hair down and just get silly? Laughter releases a flood of helpful hormones, increases oxygen intake, and helps you relax. All of these are good for the immune system. Look for great comedies, connect with a funny friend, or dig out a book of cartoons.
Play works in the same way. For adults, play can look like many things: engaging in creative activities, non-competitive group sports, time with kids, or learning something new. No matter what you do, if you’re relaxing and having fun, you can know your immune system is thanking you!
Take good care of yourself!
Even though we’re living in unprecedented times, you don’t have to let anxiety and stress wreak havoc on your immune system. Try out these helpful tips and consider reaching out to a therapist if your anxiety is too much to handle on your own.
Somatic Therapy Partners specializes in treating anxiety and trauma. Please call to find out more.
There is so much love for you here!