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  • Lyn Reed

Want to you manage your stress levels? Here’s how...

With concerns about health – both physical and psychological – so prevalent in the news, especially regarding long Covid, psychological wellbeing has never been more important. So, when it comes to boosting our immune response, it makes sense to put measures in place which help combat stress, loneliness, anxiety through to tackling insomnia.

As with any medical condition which affects the immune system – and there are many – it is important to take care of our psychological health which, because it is hidden, is often neglected.

The mind influences the body. Stress hormones such as cortisol is known to disrupt the overall immune functions. It fails to respond to things positively. The anxiety and depression that comes from chronic stress can lead to low grade inflammation throughout the body, which seems to inhibit the protection of antibodies (which are needed to enjoy good health).

Studies indicate people who are high on stress levels tend to show impaired responses to other kinds of impact like that of bereavement and other losses. In short, it appears that individuals who are stressed or anxious tend to churn over their worries for a long period of time. And this can become harmful in all kinds of ways, including a reduced capacity to build long lasting protection to conditions which impair our immune systems.

So, time to shine a light on how we can manage our stress levels.

We need to sleep well, take time out for ourselves, connect with other people. Spreading our connections widely gives us a wider pool of people to draw on.

The brain cannot focus on two things at once: not in equal measure, at least. We focus on one thing; the other stuff may be a constant, irritating humming in the background which may need addressing - not just now. So, training our brain to find a positive escape which requires focus and a healthy escape can give it a rest from unhealthy stress thus enabling us to become calmer, more reflective. With practice, a readymade emotional tool kit can be built which we can access, add and improvise at any time.

Mental strain can have a long-term effect on our health. The effects of stress can depend on our personal coping mechanisms. Thinking patterns can be explored effectively in therapy.

Sleep deprivation is a common and serious issue and from what I see in my practice, a common experience across the generations. Like chronic stress, poor sleep seems to make the immune system more ‘forgetful’ leading to reduced protection in the long term. The level of social support we have is also important – loneliness impacts on us in all kinds of ways. Small things can seem overwhelming; people with a smaller network tend to show weaker protection.

As immune diseases tend to flare up during periods of stress, it’s important to know our triggers and act upon them. A therapist who works with wellbeing can help clients to identify their triggers, and work towards a plan of how to address them.

Various therapeutic interventions can help people to change their thinking and influence their own behaviour and feelings in a positive way. Expressive writing can help, as can painting and crafting – anything to get those stress levels down.

For those who are (or will be) experiencing long COVID in the aftermath of lockdowns, combating stress levels are likely to involve letting go of how they tackled issues in the past, and learning a new way of how to look after themselves and watching out for triggers which need a less stressful response.

This often means slowing down and relaxing, something a lot of people in the 24/7 world have not learnt and will need to do, otherwise the body is likely to it for them, which all too frequently results in a chronic debilitating illness.

Once we become aware of the potential benefits to the immune system this could be sufficient motivation for practising self-care.

Better to learn take control of our whole selves if we can.

A good therapist can show us how.

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