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What does stress do to the body? The connection between anxiety and immunity

What does stress do to the body? The connection between anxiety and immunity

Stress - it's something we all experience. In particularly trying time, it can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing - directly impacting the immune system. So, how can you combat the stress the response in tough times? We speak to Brittany, a mindfulness expert for her advice.

What does stress do to the body? The connection between anxiety and immunity

What happens when we feel stressed and how does it affect our immunity?

If we drill everything down to basics, our autonomic nervous system has two ‘channels’ – sympathetic, and parasympathetic – stressed or relaxed. In an environment of uncertainty like this, it’s very easy to get locked into the bodies stress response.

If we think of the two systems as two bank accounts, there are a lot of things making deposits into our stress ‘account’ right now, fearful headlines, empty toilet paper shelves, uncertainties surrounding the future – meaning that our nervous system goes into full-time survival mode, and releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that ultimately suppress our immunity, and leave us even more vulnerable to sickness.

What are some practical exercises to combat the stress response? 

It’s really important right now to turn to little actions and practices throughout the day to keep making deposits into your parasympathetic ‘account’ to build a sense of safety and calm in your body.

These are as simple as taking space from our phones, or taking ten slow, deep breaths.

How do you personally deal with stress, anxiety and fear?

Firstly, I want to be honest – I’m feeling it! Being 39 weeks pregnant at the moment, I am far from ‘immune’ to the fear and uncertainty that we are experiencing as a society, this is all mixed in with pregnancy hormones, uncertainties surrounding the future of my business, and the protective mother-instinct, it’s been a challenging week, I’m in the depths with you!

My meditation practice is my saving grace right now, it offers me a regular circuit breaker to return home to a sense of internal balance and calmness, so that I don’t tip into overwhelm.

Meditation and mindfulness practices help to support our wellbeing when ticks along as normal, but they are essential in times of crisis and panic.

Now is the time to put those self-care practices that you have been investing in, learning, adding to your toolkit, into daily action, to support yourself but also show up for others in a grounded way – I believe panic is far more contagious than COVID-19.

What really supports me through moments of challenge is paying attention, noticing the signals my body sends me that I’m tipping into panic or overwhelm: racing thoughts, shoulders creeping up towards my ears, short shallow breaths – I always say, listen when your body whispers so you don’t have to hear it scream.

Once I notice I’m tipping into panic or overwhelm, it offers me the opportunity to scan my environment for common themes, perhaps where I might need to enforce some boundaries to protect myself : turning off news notifications and ‘muting’ certain Instagram accounts, asking friends if we can change the subject.

Pay attention to how you’re feeling so that you can make conscious choices to protect your sense of calm and wellbeing.

What are some alternative things we can do to calm our minds? 

I think we are probably moving through a cocktail of uncomfortable emotions right now. What’s going to be really important over the next week is creating space to channel and release all the emotions we are experiencing.

A really effective way to calm the nervous system is to tap into our creative right brain, so returning home to some simple creative pleasures: writing, baking, reading the book you’ve been meaning to get to, get out for a walk in nature..take some photos, jump on a virtual dance class – you do you!

This definitely isn’t the time to be layering extra pressure on ourselves to up the anti in terms of ‘productivity’ and ‘achieving goals’, we don’t need to learn 10 new languages, roll out a new business plan, or overhaul our entire life but use this extra time to be curious and get creative!

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