With winter comes cold and flu season. Although many people associate illness with schools, workplaces and crowd-filled restaurants, many illnesses are actually caused by chronic stress which suppresses the immune system and affects the body’s ability to ward off foreign invaders known as antigens.
Your immune system is made up of billions of cells that travel throughout the body, with the most common being the two types of white blood cells – lymphocytes and phagocytes. The stress hormone corticosteroid can lower the number of lymphocytes and make you vulnerable to many forms of winter illnesses. Even worse, unhealthy coping strategies that we associate with the winter holidays, such as overeating and drinking alcohol, can lower your resistance even further.
Here are some tips to help curb your stress and keep calm this cold and flu season:
It’s free and contagious (in the good kind of way). While smiling comes naturally when you’re happy, studies suggest that smiling when you’re stressed can activate areas of the brain associated with reward and triggers release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Plus, you know what they say: “laughter is the best medicine!”
Get moving! Research has shown that the release of endorphins during exercise can help you reduce stress, and can even help with depression, anxiety, ADHD & other mental health diseases.
Listening to music reduces anxiety and stress by quieting the mind and relaxing muscles. Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that music can even change brain function to the same extent as medication.
Meditation is one of the most popular ways to achieve mindfulness. Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of meditation rival those of some antidepressants.
5. Get Outside
The concept of forest therapy – sometimes called forest bathing – has gained traction in recent years, as a natural tonic against the myriad of distractions and accelerated pace of modern life. Research has shown that spending as little as three hours (without distraction) in a natural setting such as a forest helps lower blood pressure, pulse rate and the stress hormone salivary cortisol.
Styles including yin and restorative yoga are especially great for letting go of stress and everyday worries. For instant relief, try putting your legs up the wall, shutting your eyes and focusing on breathing for 10 minutes.
7. Just Breathe
Pranayama, or the yogic art of breathing, can calm you down by stimulating the parasympathetic reaction.