Do you ever find yourself caught in a cycle of stress, getting sick, stressing out because you’re sick and it’s setting you back, getting sicker because you’re stressed out…
It has to do with your fight-or-flight response. When you’re stressed, your body produces more of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These are meant to be a short-term solution for whatever is facing you at the moment—a bear, an assailant, a near-miss accident—that help you respond quickly to danger.
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When you’re constantly stressed out, however, your body keeps making more of these hormones, in addition to quickening your heart rate and blood pressure as a result. That’s extremely taxing on your immune system.
Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and television commentator, wrote about what’s at work behind this very annoying vicious cycle on Health.com. She writes:
These physiological changes come in handy if you’re facing an acute emergency (say, you have to quickly climb out of a submerged car) but not when you’re constantly barraged with more ordinary annoyances (you can’t find your work ID! Your computer crashes! Traffic makes you late!). Putting your body into this overactive, fight-or-flight state for drawn-out periods can weaken your immune response, triggering various symptoms (gastrointestinal problems, headaches, insomnia) and contributing to everything from respiratory infections to heart disease. Now, there is no such thing as living stress-free, but you knew that already. What’s key is how you manage what life throws at you—you want to short-circuit worry before it overloads you.
Saltz suggests actively de-stressing if you find yourself in a sickness stress loop. Practice deep breathing, talking it out, or getting into some physical activity are all proven ways to beat the stress before it beats you.
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