How Stress and Immune Health Are Connected

Let’s get right to it: Stress and immune health are connected. That’s because, as we learned in our intro to Traditional Chinese Medicine blog[link], everything in your body is connected — including your emotional and mental health. 

Just as you support immunity by eating a healthy diet, moving your body regularly, maybe taking a multivitamin and getting a good night’s sleep as often as possible, you also give it some TLC when you manage your stress. Stress and all its friends (fatigue and stress are BFFs, after all) are out to sabotage your immune system. 

And it makes sense: How can your body rally the troops and protect you from invaders if it is too tired and stressed out?

What Stress Does to Energy

Your body runs a tight ship. Every day, each system and organ has its own to-do list, and they get those tasks done, largely without you needing to think about it or intervene. Everything stays in balance, and every system runs more or less on autopilot. 

This balance is called homeostasis, the default mode of the human body. Homeostasis is also the goal of TCM. Ideally, we stay in homeostasis, but in reality (especially today’s busier than ever modern reality), that balance is harder to maintain. Instead of homeostasis being like you trying to balance on your kid’s wobble board, it’s like trying to balance on the wobble board in high heels, while balancing a toddler on one hip, your backpack slung on a shoulder, one eye closed and carrying your precious cup of morning coffee. We can all relate, right? 

All those extra hurdles are what stress does to homeostasis. When you’re stressed out or fighting fatigue, the world won’t slow down – and you don’t get a much-needed burst of energy to carry that heavier load. Nope. Instead, your body has to scavenge for the energy you need, so some systems and functions sacrifice attention. Guess which area often pays the price?

Stress and Immune Health

Even short-term stress and immune health are connected! But the real problem is that, for most of us, the stress response is used in a way that differs from its physiological intent. The stress response was designed to work for acute situations – we’ve all heard fight-or-flight compared to outrunning a tiger – but nowadays we tend not to turn off that response. 

Think of it like the smoke alarms in your home. They are designed to alert you when there’s danger, right? When you burn the cookies or singe a dish towel on the stove, the blaring sound of the smoke alarm helps you stay safe. Eventually, once you open a window, extinguish the flame or turn on an exhaust fan, the alarm goes off because the danger has passed. But what if you forget to change the batteries in that smoke alarm and they start to get low? What happens then? 

The alarm sounds more often – during times that are inconvenient and not an emergency. The same thing happens in your body when you don’t fight fatigue, prioritize rest or take good care of yourself. Your batteries get low, and your alarm sounds more often. (When the batteries die, that’s akin to burnout, but that’s another topic for another day.)

5 Tips for Managing Stress and Immune Health

Thankfully, what’s good for managing stress and immune health also happens to be good for overall health and well-being, so chances are you’ve already established some of these habits. Keep them up and add more as you have the energetic capacity. 

Deal with your stress. 

No, seriously, deal with it. While that’s easier said than done, stress that isn’t managed is like debt – it’ll just keep gaining interest and growing. Stress and immune health form a cycle: When you’re healthy and in relative homeostasis, you’re better able to manage stress. And when your stress is managed, you’re better able to not only make choices that keep your immune system thriving but also have more energy to devote to caring for yourself during those times it’s not. 

Self-care isn’t selfish. Find the ways that work for you – and then do them. Your emotional health and your immune system will thank you. 

Adapt with adaptogens. 

While adaptogens are best-known for their impact on helping us adapt to stress of all kinds, these herbs can also help boost immunity.* Ginseng in particular can deliver immune support as well as adaptogenic benefits.* In TCM, ginseng is used to support immune system function, promote health aging and longevity and to support overall well-being as a tonic herb.* 

While adaptogens do start to impart their benefits right away, they are best taken over time. That’s why we use organic red ginseng in our Good Morning Sunshine™ coffee + adaptogens. By combining this potent adaptogen with coffee, it  helps you fight fatigue with more than just caffeine.* Even better, you only need a pod, not a pot. 

Balance your energy budget. 

Just like you balance your household budget, you can do the same for your energy. After all, they’re quite similar. You get a certain amount of energy each day, and you have to draw from it as needed. Sometimes you can boost your balance (maybe with a little self-care, rest or a workout), and other times it dips below your comfort zone (um, hello, 2020-2021?). Look at the areas of your life that take more energy than they give back and begin there. Tweaking your morning routine might be the easiest place to start! 

Ask yourself before taking on new tasks and responsibilities: Is this worth the energy it will cost me? If not, say no. 

Move your body. 

There are countless reasons why exercise is beneficial for us. And that doesn’t mean only the trendy, super-hard kinds. Any kind of movement that feels good to you does good for you. Aim for 30 minutes a day if you can, but don’t add to your stress load worrying about it if you can’t. 

Exercise has been extensively studied for its impact on immune health. Turns out, working out builds more than strong muscles – it can also build a stronger immune response. Exercise stimulates parts of your innate (built-in) immune system, which may reduce overall inflammation. 

Rest up. 

You’ve heard us talk about this one time and time again. That’s because for both stress and immune health (along with pretty much everything else going on in your body), you need to make sleep a priority. Your immune system uses sleep as a time to catch up on all sorts of tasks, like cell repair and healing. 

We all need extra hours in the day – but the secret is not dipping into our seven-plus hours designated for rest. If you are on the sleep “struggle bus,” check out this list of 11 things to try to finally get a good night’s rest

Step one? Stock up on Hello Dreams™ sleep strip with Melatonin & Calm Down™ herbal blend. Simply place one on your tongue about 10 minutes you want to drift off. Feel the refreshingly minty and herbal strip melt away as you drift off. Quiet the mind, drift into deep slumber and awake restored, one strip and one night at a time. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.