The Immune system's job is to identify foreign invaders that can be potentially disease causing, attack them and get rid of them. This would include organs such as the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, your bone marrow and immune cells such as lymphocytes and leukocytes. So, this system helps us fight off disease.
Now let's take a look at 'stress'. Stress. What do you think when you read 'stress'? Do you think it is perceived or emotional? Then you are correct. However, there is also another definition for stress and I call it physiological stress. Physiological stress refers to any internal event that occurs that will change/alter the physiological state of homoeostasis. Physiological Homoeostasis means your body is in Balance or optimal functioning. This means , physiological stress can be conscious or unconscious. For example, studies show that chronic pain sufferers, although they may have consciously adapted to the level of pain in order to not notice it as much, have higher levels of cortisol in their bloodstream and may be more susceptible to cold, flu, heart disease, etc. Why is this and what is the correlation to brain-gut-immune system?
In order to answer this question, we have to look at the natural mechanism of 'flight, fight or freeze'. In perceived stress, the cycle is initiated by first experience, then cognitive interpretation that sets off the hormonal responses. For example, you are driving in your car and a child jumps into your lane to cross and you have to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid the child. You fortunately are unharmed and so is the child but your hands are shaking, your heart is pounding, and all of a sudden you are getting a headache and need to get to a toilet!!! What the heck just happened? Your brain, specifically , the hypothalamus , set off an alarm system. This communicated with your adrenal glands to release hormones for you to act quickly and with the most precision in mind body coordination, without actually having to 'think ' about what to do. The main hormones: adrenaline and cortisol are now pumping into your system. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and boost energy supplies. (which by the way- think about this. How do you feel when you work out really hard? sound familiar? hard long run? Hard long lifting weights?)) Cortisol is the main stress hormone in the body! It regulates and effects every other hormone in your system. It increases Blood Sugar, enhances your brain's ability to utilize glucose and increases the body's availability of substances to repair tissues. (think about this: if it raises your blood sugar level and stays elevated when you no longer need this how do you think it will effect you? Note: marathon runners in training, have consistent elevated cortisol and most notorious for being the athlete with the most opportunistic illnesses- food for thought)
Lets's not gang up on 'stress'. Let us take a moment to stress that stress can help us reach our highest potentials!!!! Whaaaaaaa??? But you just said elevated cortisol in the blood is bad and cortisol is released because of stress!!! Yep, I did . Weight lifting, aerobic exercise, mental stress - can all motivate and inspire us to perform. It can increase our overall health. However, what did I say in the beginning about Homoeostasis/ a balanced physiological state? I like to tell my clients to think about the physiological stress in their lives , in reference to a pie chart.
Think about it...
Remember, that some forms of exercise are seen as 'physiological stressors'. (meaning cortisol is released, or some other shift has to occur to allow your body to adapt )This does not make them bad. In fact, they provide some great health benefits, if adapted to a body that can flow between stress and homeostasis fluidly. I am suggesting, we teach our body and mind, to adapt more efficiently, with Integrative Functional Movement(tm)- a specific form of exercise that trains your body to flow more quickly back and forth from stress to balance. And if you do not embrace this form of movement, add more restorative modalities as suggested below.
- Digestive problems, such as IBS, GERD,
- Heart Disease
- sleep disorder
- weight gain
- memory and concentration
- and I am going to throw in chronic fatigue, moodiness, irritability, diabetes and so much more.
So what in the world do I do to LOVE MYSELF and help out my immune system?
Think Whole being approach. Think gut health and brain health. Think about Balancing the perceived and subconcious stressors with a calmed and optimal functioning gut, brain, and body.
Here are a few more specific ideas:
- Interval training. Combination of high intensity workout, with body building, agility, cardio combined with intervals of calming the body. I call this Integrative Functional Movement (tm) I believe this is a form or training/re-training the body's natural stress responses to recognize when to adapt appropriately. For more info on IFM, please visit my website at www.orthopedicmassagetherpy.com
- Meditation. Studies have been performed that demonstrate individuals meditating daily , can decrease the time of illness if start meditating at onset. Study
- gentle aerobic exercise. 30 minutes a day is the current recommendation
- Yoga. If you are a crossfitter, use Yoga as a Restorative approach to re-training the stress response to adapt to a homeostatic state. Yoga can include or NOT include Asana practise. Yoga can be many things to many people. Have fun exploring it for yourself. If you want help, contact me at my website. Tons of Research on Yoga and the health benefits, including reducing CORTISOL and improving Gut function.
- Massage. Many different styles and types out there to reducing stress to reducing chronic pain, to helping you recover from sports training, prevent injury, and increase range of motion and power. Massage has been studies extensively as well and shows that within a 45' basic Swedish/deep tissue effleurage, can reduce CORTISOL. Again, contact me for a massage :) Yes, I do it ALL because I believe in the Whole Being approach.
- Spend some time, finding out how your foods effect you. The biggest thing you can do for yourself today is EAT a HIGH Calorie Breakfast. EAT BREAKFAST- period!! TED TALK
I sincerely hope this information inspires questioning to self and to what is currently being offered in the media and research. No matter what I say or what the research says, use the information ONLY to inspire questioning to get to know Self and what is best for you!!! What is good for me, may not be good for you. It is your journey.
Much much love, light, peace to you!