There is no health without Mental Health
It would be difficult for me to leave this pandemic without referring to the impact of mental health on health. Sadly, the English government have chosen to use fear to induce compliance, with SAGE’s behavioural science sub-group SPI-B, suggesting techniques such as the following,
“Perceived threat: A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened… The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.”
The importance of good mental health to the immune system seems lost.
Mental Health and The Immune System
Alongside healthy eating, employment, social connection, moderate to low alcohol intake, not smoking, exercise and physical activity low stress is a key component to support immune health and a strong immune system. Studies show that when subjected to stress the body mobilises all major immune cell types towards the blood and skin. During moments of stress nearly all immune cells are put into circulation to ready the body for an immune response if needed.
The body is efficient, and the purpose of the stress response is to keep us alive. Primitive stresses were nearly always a threat to life and that is what the stress response has evolved to mitigate. However, naturally a threat to life is quick lived. Humans are yet to evolve fully from the life-threatening stress of a sabretooth cat chase to a hard day in the office or the prolonged fear of death through behaviour management. Over time a prolonged stress response is draining to the body. Studies looking at the effects of stress have indicated that stress exposure can increase the likelihood of developing disease, as well as exacerbating pre-existing conditions.
Lower Stress, Boost the Immune System
Lifestyle changes can boost your immune system so that you have less chance of suffering symptoms of a virus when exposed. Experienced professionals will help you treat your body, holistically with care. Investing in your health and choosing a private consultation with a practitioner will give you a personalised programme. However, there is access to free guidance that is easy to find through an internet search. Many fitness instructors and personal trainers upload videos so that you can work out at home.
Stress is my bag, here are three ways to reduce the stress in your life;
Switch off the news
This will always be number one for me, from the day I experienced fear induced anxiety myself after the 2015 attacks in Paris I will always remember to suggest switching off the news. With headlines designed to stir internal emotions, the effect of certain articles of news bulletins are obvious. When you cannot shake the story from your mind, or you experience a physical reaction such as a racing heart or shaking hands. Other times nothing noticeable happens. Either way, switch off for ten days.
Keep in mind that this includes deleting the news app from your phone and not opening certain articles shared on social media. Observe any differences in yourself over the ten days. If you notice a positive change you will be more inclined to make it a permanent change. I have explained in a previous blog post that your brain cannot differentiate between real and imaginary. When you read / see / hear a terrifying story as you imagine it your brain will interpret it as happening and react accordingly. If your imagination goes into overdrive whilst watching / reading the news your brain will trigger an unnecessary lifesaving stress response.
Take control of your mind through brain training.
Urgh to those moments when you cannot switch off your mind. All day long the same, worrying thoughts swirling around. Generally imagining situations that have not happened yet. The stress of what has not happened often more harmful to the body than what would be if it did happen. Contemporary meditators regularly speak of their meditation as brain training. Just as we train muscles with weight work outs and the heart with cardio training. Experimenting with and learning how to meditate puts you in control of your thoughts. With regular practise you will learn how to live mindfully, in the moment rather than ruminate on the “what ifs”.
When stress is high laughter is low. Laughter relieves tension by relaxing your muscles and lowers the stress response. Connecting with others is important alone to relieve stress, however if you can connect with others and laugh at the same time the greater the benefits. Walk with a friend, arrange a zoom quiz, or watch a funny movie. Some people find that a ten-minute YouTube funny leaves them on a high for hours. Think about the last time you laughed so hard your sides hurt to remind yourself what tickles you. Get creative to recreate this in any way you can.
When you take action to reduce or switch off the unnecessary stress response in your body your immune system will function more efficiently. At times like this we all want an optimum immune system. As they say, there is no health without mental health.
Dhabhar, F. S., Malarkey, W. B., Neri, E., & McEwen, B. S. (2012). Stress-induced redistribution of immune cells—From barracks to boulevards to battlefields: A tale of three hormones–Curt Richter Award Winner. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(9), 1345-1368.
Morey, J. N., Boggero, I. A., Scott, A. B., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2015). Current directions in stress and human immune function. Current opinion in psychology, 5, 13-17.
If you wish to lower your stress by reducing the amount of alcohol you drink please read my blog post here Drinking Too Much Alcohol?