“There’s piling evidence that virtually every ill from the common cold to cancer and heart disease is influenced positively or negatively by a personal’s emotional and mental state. We can no longer ignore this connection.”
~ Dr. Jenna Macciochi
Your immune system plays a crucial role in your life.
Remember we navigate our daily lives alongside germs. We cohabit this planet together – us and the bugs!
This makes looking after your immune system integral and important every single day of your life.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
In 2020 immunology is in the spotlight like never before.
We’re navigating a global pandemic, when the ability to battle infections and disease is front and centre in people’s minds. And we’re heading into winter when colds and flu are commonly widespread.
The state of your immune system will determine whether you can fight off a virus or have lesser symptoms.
Imagine 10 people in the same room and 1 person has the cold virus. Not all 9 others will get symptoms of the virus. The current COVID-19 pandemic has put this under the microscope with some people not showing symptoms but still being a carrier.
Would you catch the cold?
YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
It’s More Than You Think
Your immune system is so much more than battling off germs. It doesn’t just ‘kick in’ when you get a November cold.
It’s more like a mobile brain working hard to learn from the environment around you and keeping a balanced status quo in your body.
How It’s Influenced
Your immune system is made and built, not born. It is changing throughout your life and influenced by your environment and everything you do – your thoughts, your words, your diet, your sleep and your stress levels.
All of which gives information to your immune system as to whether it needs to respond or whether it can be calm.
Changing the Emphasis
Many prioritise immune boosting vitamin and mineral packed food supplements as the way to make their immune system invincible.
I want to switch the emphasis. I want to focus on another aspect of your lifestyle – your stress levels.
The impact of stress on your immune system is one of those things that we don’t take seriously.
Dr. Jenna Macciochi’s personal story demonstrates why we need to take it seriously.
Despite being an immunologist who lectures medical, pharmacy and biomedical students Jenna forgot about the impact of stress on her health. She describes herself as a natural stress head – easily stressed by things that shouldn’t stress her, worrying about things that she doesn’t need to worry about and being stressed is always on her radar.
Two years ago Jenna got a cold. Her husband and son caught it too and got better quickly. She took no time off from work. She was working every evening to finish deadlines on various projects. She wasn’t sleeping well because she was wired from working and unable to switch off, thinking about what needed to be done tomorrow.
Jenna didn’t recover quickly like her husband and son. She soon had a hacking cough, which she tried to hide away from her colleagues and family, but pretended she was fine.
Then one day, Jenna couldn’t get out of bed. Her cold had turned into pneumonia. She had a bone rattling chesty cough, fever and was in bed for 3 weeks. All those balls she’d been juggling – deadlines, projects, her children – she couldn’t do any of them.
She ignored the cold and was so stressed (though didn’t recognise she was stressed) that despite her academic background she didn’t see the trickle-down effects her stressed lifestyle was having on her.
Her diet had been good but her immune system was completely floored by being overworked and overstressed.
Jenna admits she didn’t take her stress chemistry seriously and it is real.
Are you burning the candle at both ends like Jenna?
TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECTS OF STRESS
Stress is designed to save your life. If you’re about to be attacked by a polar bear then stress will switch on your adrenaline response.
It will help you run for your life. It will mobilise you. It will get you to safety. And this happens within seconds!
Cortisol Dampens Your Immune System
Cortisol is a key stress hormone that will keep you safe by helping you run away from that polar bear. It pumps glucose into your blood stream giving you instant energy to stay away from trouble. It’s the ‘off-switch’ for non-essential processes and dampens our immune system.
This is manageable for your body when it’s for a few hours. If you are in this over-stressed state for days, weeks, months or even years it means you’ll be left running on empty.
Revving Your Car’s Engine with Your Foot On the Brake
Stress is energetically costly. If your stress response is switched on, your body will always prioritise it over your immune system.
If you’ve got a winter cold, your body will stop fighting the cold when it prioritises keeping you in a state of red alert fuelled by being chronically stressed.
Chronic stress impacts your cortisol receptors. Think of it like constantly revving your car’s engine but with your foot on the brake at the same time. You don’t want that.
Your body has ways and means of switching off the stress response. But when the stress response is ON all the time the circuit gets worn and everything gets off balance.
Impact of Significant Life Stressors
Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, British Physician and Broadcaster, has explained how when a patient presents with an auto immune illness often in the preceding 6 months the patient will have suffered a significant life stressor.
This could have been bereavement, loss of job or broken relationship.
More Trickle Down Effects
The trickle-down effect of stress is that it not only impacts our sleep and makes us more likely to engage in negative behaviours, like eating badly and putting on weight, but directly impacts our immune system.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
- Is your cortisol circuit constantly on?
- Are you burning the candle at both ends?
- Do say yes to everyone but never take a break yourself?
- Have you been impacted by a significant life stressor?
Now is the time to decide what you’re going to do to make a change.
- How do you relieve your stress?
- Do you prioritise what brings you joy?
- Who is in your support network?
- How often do you take a moment to stop?
If you’re looking for a way to turn your cortisol circuit off, reboot your immune system and achieve deliberate rest in your life, I can help you.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is an effective way to reduce stress and bring yourself back into balance with calmness and positivity. This will be welcomed by your immune system!
If I could be the right Hypnotherapist to help you with this then get in touch or book an appointment – I’d be delighted to work with you so that you can Lead a Better Life.
A conversation between Dr. Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist with 20 years’ experience, and Dr Rangan Chatterjee, British physician, author and podcaster, is the basis for this blog. Find out more at drchatterjee.com.