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Stress, immunity, and flu season

Photo by: Mojca J

It’s that time of the year again. Shorter days, lower temperatures; flu season. If you’re a bit sniffly or have a headache, it’s more likely you have a cold, but if your symptoms are more severe (high temperature, exhaustion, sore throat and headache, loss of appetite, etc) you might have caught the influenza virus. Take your daily vitamins, and wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands- but there are also other things you should be aware of when taking care of your immune system.

The human immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and microbes that help the body fight diseases, infections, and foreign bodies (bacteria, viruses, and cancerous cells). Research has shown that stress and anxiety have an adverse effect on our health, as they can suppress our immune function and increase susceptibility to infections. The definition of stress has changed over the course of the years to encompass both physiological and psychological mechanisms. Recent definitions view stress as the culmination of a series of difficult events, consisting of a stressor that activates a reaction in the brain (as it perceives the stressor) and activates the physiological fight-or-flight response in our body. Usually, the body’s stress response self-regulates and hormone levels go back to normal once the perceived threat is gone. Adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, heart rate and blood pressure go back to normal.

But if you feel stressed all the time, the fight-or-flight response remains on high alert. Long-term or chronic stress activation can lead to overexposure to cortisol and the other hormones which can disrupt the body’s processes- putting you at risk of health issues. “Stress and anxiety have a tremendous impact on our immune system,” says David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorder Centre. “We know excess levels of stress produce hormonal changes that lower the body’s resistance to colds and other infections.”

Continuous or chronic exposure to stress hormones can result in the suppression of white blood cells, leading to higher risk of infection. A study published in 2012 found that participants who had recently been exposed to long-term stressful experiences were at higher risk of developing a cold compared with those who hadn’t been stressed. But this isn’t new knowledge- a classic study published in 1991 also found that the risk of catching a cold was proportional with one’s stress levels.

Stress is a part of life, and we can learn to manage it. We can learn to identify our stressors and develop skills to deal with our emotions. Effective stress management techniques include keeping a journal, meditation, breathing exercises, having a hobby, speaking with friends and family or a counsellor, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and exercise. Any form of exercise you enjoy can act as a stress reliever. Anything from walking, jogging, dancing, cycling, yoga, swimming, and gardening. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity has stress relieving properties as it can boost your endorphin production. The neurotransmitter endorphin is involved in the feeling of pleasure and well-being, as well as pain reduction.

Here at FitQuid we aim to motivate the community to be active and healthy, by prioritizing happiness and well-being. Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure, increases energy, and lowers the risk of a long list of diseases. The NHS recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) weekly. You don’t need to join a gym to do physical activities, take a walk with your dog, or follow a video from home. Make sure to take care of yourself and others this holiday season!

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FitQuid aims to become a contributor in helping people live a healthier and happier lives. This publications will offer valuable insights regarding different physical and mental health topics.

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Auri Carballo

Auri Carballo

Psychology student, invested in helping communities

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