Tag Archives: psychological ldemands

Stress and Your Immune System During the Pandemic

Keeping our immune system strong has always been important. However, it has become critical in this age of a 2-year pandemic. While this pandemic appears to be winding down, who knows what might be waiting in the wings.

When we are stressed, our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced making us more susceptible to infection. How does this happen? The stress hormone, corticosteroid, works to suppress the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes. Corticosteroid  can also increase active immunosuppressive mechanisms, like regulatory T cells. Chronic stress  dysregulates immune function by increasing proinflammatory responses.

There is a big difference between chronic stress and short-term stress. Short-term stress is the  fight-or-flight response lasting minutes to hours. It is a response to an immediate threat. The healthy nervous system will self-regulate by reducing the effects of the fight-or-flight response  as soon as the immediate threat is gone. Research has shown the value of short-term stress as  a way of mobilizing bodily resources and stimulating immune activity. One particular set of studies done at Stanford University School of Medicine by Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar tracked the paths of key immune cells in response to short-term stress in rats. The hormones that were  triggered enhanced the rats’ immune responsiveness during the fight-or-flight response. Their  findings paint a better picture of how our minds influence immune activity.

Chronic stress, or long-term stress, can suppress our immune system. People with weak  immune systems need to pay particular attention to their stress and to ways to systematically reduce it. Signs of a weak immune system include:
Frequent colds or infections
Digestive problems
Delayed wound healing
Skin infections
Blood Disorder or an autoimmune disease

Anxiety and its side-kick, chronic stress, are especially harmful to the immune system. If you  recognize that your nervous system reacts quickly with an anxiety or stress response, it is time  to pay attention to ways to reduce your stress. A busy mind that never stops or a busy schedule or chronic worry all can lead to chronic stress. One of the most effective ways to manage the  problem is to take frequent breaks during the day to stop the mental activity and consequent  cortisol production. As a great teacher once said when asked what is the best way to reduce  stress: “breathe!”

How Long is Your To-Do-List?

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is
the only one you know you have for sure.” Oprah

My mother used to be famous for telling our family: “It’s hard work having a good time.” I was  remembering that as I sat nursing a bump on the head from forgetting to duck under an open  cabinet door while rushing around setting up camp this weekend. At the same time, I was thinking about writing this column and wondering what to write about.

We used to laugh when mom said “it is hard work having a good time” but the more I live life,  the more I realize the truth of it. Life seems to be all about hurrying to DO things. We seem to  try to pack in as much as we can into each day. The more we put into the schedule, the more stressful the day becomes. For one thing, nothing ever goes as quickly or as easily as we plan,  thanks to things like traffic, the weather, the unexpected phone calls or unplanned things we  simply have to deal with. The meeting we planned doesn’t happen because the Zoom connection was bad, or the other person forgot, or they had an emergency or something.

Life in the fast lane. There is an explosion in one part of the world, and it is world news within  the same hour. What precautions do you take to erase some of that stress daily? Or, do you just let it build up until you realize you are exhausted.

How long is your To Do List? The busier we are the more we think we can add to the daily To Do List. After all, we are very fast and efficient at getting things done. Or, at least, that is what we  tell ourselves.

To change this pattern, you have to be conscious of (aware of) so much from minute-to-minute  in your day. Start by becoming aware of not over-booking yourself and not underestimating  how long it takes to do things. That is a tough one for most of us. If you are honest with yourself, you will recognize that you underestimate most everything from how long it takes to  drive to work to how long it takes to write that report. I spent years estimating my drive to the  office from Mandeville to Metairie was 30 minutes. It is and always has been 40 minutes – even  with no traffic or bad weather.

And, most important, I will bet that none of you think about putting a real break into your To- Do-List, a period where you can just BE for a few minutes, breathe, stretch, drink some water,  and STOP THINKING! Why not put the paper down and take a few minutes right now to just BE.

Stress Solutions

Today’s Pregnant Woman Has More to Manage

That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you
cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.
~ Chinese proverb

A friend who was about to become a grandmother for the first time told me of her fears about her daughter’s pregnancy. The doctor was concerned about an early or premature delivery. My  friend confided to me that she was worried that this had something to do with her daughter  being a Type A personality and continuing to work long hours at her job. “Could someone under  that much pressure,” she asked, “expect to have a normal baby?”

My friend wasn’t worried about whether her daughter’s child would have ten fingers and toes,  two eyes and ears, and a nose. She wondered about the baby’s disposition, ability to rest, and  overall health and wellbeing. Intuitively, my friend understood what research is now  confirming:  too much stress during pregnancy, if not properly managed, can affect the baby’s  development in a number of ways. Stress, for example, is now recognized as a primary factor in preterm birth as well as a number of other later childhood problems.

The notion that modern generations are busier and handle more tasks at the same time than  past generations is not only supported by research; it is common sense. While we may not need to plow the fields and do the wash by hand, we are juggling more variables, processing more  information, and facing increasing psychological demands as our society becomes more  technologically advanced. In our fast-paced lives, things change around us rapidly. Change itself is a significant cause of stress because when something in our environment changes, we are  compelled to change our behavior. And changing our behavior can be an emotional event often accompanied by fear, anxiety, and even anger.

One of the things my friends’ daughter did when she became pregnant was to examine lists of  physical and mental symptoms of stress like the one below. This was the first exercise she did  to become more aware of her reactions to the day’s events. These aren’t the only symptoms of  a stressful lifestyle, but hopefully you will find this exercise helpful to help you recognize when  your tension is mounting.

Considering that many people have a misperception of how well they are handling the rising  stress in their lives, how well do you know yourself? Do you find yourself. .?

__ Holding your breath under tension               __ Rapidly shaking your foot while sitting
__ Now and then taking a sudden deep sigh    __ Being very fidgety or irritable
__ Having a racing heart or sweaty palms         __ Jumping to loud or unexpected noises
__ Clenching or wringing your hands                 __ Trembling all over