Linked to everything from the common cold to depression to heart disease, stress causes the body to lose its ability to regulate inflammation. The stress hormone, cortisol, plays a role in regulating immune cells, but when stress is prolonged and becomes chronic, those cells become insensitive to cortisol and inflammation goes unchecked.
What should be a temporary warning sign can become an out of control blaze, wreaking havoc in the process.
Alternatively, what has been associated with dramatic reductions in disease and increased longevity? What can have a great impact than cholesterol, blood sugar, or blood pressure or any other risk factor in determining whether you will live a long and healthy life?
It’s you! Your attitude, your social network, community, spiritual beliefs, and having a sense of purpose in life. A feeling of control when it comes to the result of positive self-care is linked to long-term physiological benefits, including overall longevity. Doing things that give us a feeling of purpose often have the outcome of reducing stress.
We are all guilty of falling into the way of thinking that the only way to take care of the physical body is through physical means, like choosing the right foods and staying active.
But, there is a dramatic and powerful connection between our mind and body, and of our body and our mind, in fact, it really should not be called a connection because it is a bidirectional system. Hans Selye, MD, the man who coined the term ‘stress’ and first mapped out its biological effects said, “The modern physician should know as much about emotions and thoughts as about disease, symptoms and drugs. This approach would appear to hold more promise of cure than anything medicine has given us to date.”
We are living in an age of packed schedules and little time to breathe and relax. So, it’s no wonder we are seeing an epidemic of stress-related disorders. While eating a nutrient dense diet and getting plenty of movement are definitely vital to our wellness and can play their own part in decreasing stress on the body, we also need to focus on mindfulness practices, slowing down, and cultivating purpose if we want to feel our best and live long healthy lives.
There are many skills we can learn and practice regularly to support these goals. Meditation (might we suggest the apps Calm and Headspace), deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, taking a hot bath, intimacy with our partners, getting a massage, or going for a walk are all enjoyable and easy ways to help calm the body and mind. We can also make an effort to cultivate meaningful relationships by joining groups and community events to reduce the psychological stress associated with social isolation.
The takeaway is that we can do things to reduce stress and its effects on our health. By taking preventative action now, disease can be prevented and you can boost your longevity and happiness; stress doesn’t have to have power over your wellness.