The vast majority of American adults say they feel anxiety or stress – every day. As one of the most stressed nations on earth, it’s time to start taking a serious look at the connection between chronic stress and the immune system.
What do we already know about chronic stress? We know it has a significant unwanted impact on your immune system. An overview of studies surrounding stress and the immune system shows a link between stress and how the immune system functions that goes back decades. Additional studies have found that chronic stress increases your risk of inflammation, and elevated levels of inflammation increase the likelihood of cancer and heart disease.
When you’re feeling stressed out, depressed, or lonely, you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up getting physically sick.
Chronic mental stress is a big threat to your future health, according to many studies
Back in the 1980s, an immunologist and psychologist found it intriguing to see studies linking stress to infection. They went on to do their own study on medical students, discovering that the stress of three-day exams decreased the students’ immunity.
Since then, hundreds of studies have been done on the links between stress and health. Those studies have revealed unique patterns. When people experienced stress for a significant duration of time, their immunity went downhill, leading to the conclusion that too much stress can wreak havoc on the immune system.
How does stress affect your immune system? It triggers chemical reactions in the body, releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which can decrease white blood cells. Keep in mind, white blood cells are designed to help us with infections.
Researchers also discovered that individuals who are already sick or older are at a greater risk of stress-related immune dysfunction. In aging adults, even mild depression may suppress their immune system. Some experts even believe that stress may be responsible for up to 90% of all diseases and illnesses, including the big ones like heart disease and cancer.
Chronic stress also increases the risk of inflammation – which increases the rate of tissue damage and infection risk. The effects of stress tend to be cumulative, which means that every-day stress may eventually lead to serious health problems. Unfortunately, the only “solution” that Western medicine offers is a toxic drug, that only adds to stress – especially in the liver!
Your state of mind and how you respond to stressful situations dramatically influences the development of disease or wellbeing. But if you’re dealing with chronic stress, there’s something you can do to help your body fight it more effectively.
New research conducted by the University of Konstanz psychologists and published in the journal Scientific Reports discovered that giving yourself a few minutes of downtime boosts both physical and mental relaxation significantly. And surprisingly, it only takes ten minutes to see the positive effects!
According to this new research, just ten minutes of massage resulted in higher levels of physiological and psychological relaxation in individuals. And it wasn’t just massage.
Taking ten minutes to rest also increased relaxation, although not quite as much as massage did. This is the first solid indication that even short-term relaxation may reduce stress on both a physical and mental level by boosting the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s main engine for relaxation.
This study shows that massage, and even rest, boosts the parasympathetic nervous system, also resulting in less perceived mental stress. According to researchers, understanding relaxation, which is the opposite of stress, offers an excellent way to better understand the negative effects stress has on the body and mind.
The exciting thing about this new study is that it shows us that even short periods of rest or massage are enough to counteract the effects of stress. Researchers found that you don’t even need a professional massage to reap the relaxation benefits. Having a loved one rub your shoulders for just ten minutes or even taking a moment to close your eyes and relax for ten minutes can boost your body’s own engine of relaxation. Of course, when you add slow, deep breathing to the equation, it’s even more effective!
While massage and rest are beneficial in reducing stress, “Let us turn from the dusty, heated thoroughfares of life to rest in the shadow of Christ’s love. Here we gain strength for conflict. Here we learn how to lessen toil and worry, and how to speak and sing to the praise of God. Let the weary and the heavy-laden learn from Christ the lesson of quiet trust. They must sit under His shadow if they would be possessors of His peace and rest.” Counsels on Health, 251, 252.