It’s no secret that with a global pandemic affecting the health of thousands and disrupting the economy, most people are facing stress and anxiety like never before. And, while this is a normal part of everyday life, chronic stress can have both a physical and mental impact on the body. Two major areas it can affect are the HPA axis and the immune system, which are both critical during this COVID-19 crisis.
Impacting the HPA Axis
The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is an integration of the endocrine and central nervous systems and is considered to be the “stress response system.” This system regulates your body’s fight or flight response, which prepares the body for a quick response to potential danger. When stress occurs, a series of hormones are released from this axis, culminating in cortisol being released from the adrenal cortex. There is also release of two alarm chemicals, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. With normal stressors, the body will report back to stop releasing cortisol when the source of the stressor has been relieved, and everything then returns to normal.
With repeated or prolonged stress, the HPA axis remains active, releasing cortisol along with epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream. If not addressed, these can lead to major health issues, a poor quality of life, or even death. These health risks include:
- High blood pressure
- Damaged blood vessels
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Poor memory and concentration
- Risk of anxiety and depression
- Disturbed sleep
- Chronic inflammation
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Increased fat storage and weight gain
Impacting the Immune System
With this steady stream of hormones pumping into the blood system, the immune system is also greatly impacted. The immune system has both B and T cells (lymphocytes) that help to destroy incoming viruses and bacteria. With stress, the number of these lymphocytes are greatly reduced allowing an individual to be more susceptible to infections. Chronic stress can increase inflammation in the body, further impairing immunity and causing cellular and tissue damage.
Indirect effects on the immune system by stress include unhealthy coping strategies like a poor diet, smoking or excessive drinking, which come with their own health risks. Additionally, disruption of normal healthy habits such as exercise, sleep, and healthy meals can place even more burden on the body. Other factors linked to stress that can negatively impact immune function include mental/emotional factors like depression or anxiety and blood sugar imbalance.
Stress Management Techniques
So now that we know the impact stress can have on the body and immune system, it’s important to know how to handle it. A healthy immune system is essential to combat any virus, especially COVID-19, and it is now more important than ever. Here are just a few ideas to help you manage your anxiety:
- Try meditation, visualization, prayer, and deep breathing. Helpful apps for meditation include: Insight Timer and HeadSpace
- Take a Yoga or tai chi class online. Free yoga on youtube: Yoga with Adriene
- Exercise to deepen breathing and provide muscle tension relief but don’t overdo it. Try Deep breathing exercise on YouTube called Calm Breathe Bubble
- Connect with close friends and family through phone calls and video conferencing
- Deep restful sleep at least 7-8 hours for most
- Find an activity that you enjoy doing that will easily fit into your daily routine
Find What Works
During this unprecedented time in history, it’s not wrong to feel some anxiety or stress about what the future holds. However, it’s important that you don’t let yourself stay in that space. Find and put into practice a few different ways to alleviate your worries, so you feel healthy and confident to face whatever may come your way!
Find Out How Your HPA Axis and Immune System Are Working
If you are interested in finding out how your HPA Axis is responding to this increased level of stress and get specific recommendations for nutrient supplementation to help support its normal function, then reach out to me at my contact here and ask about adrenal testing I have available at my clinic. I will have a second post on our Facebook page this month to delve deeper into the immune system, but if you are interested in information about my immune function testing promotion for April and May then reach out to me here also so I can provide you with personalized recommendations for immune system support.