Dr. Joel Rosen knows a thing or two about stress and the effects it can have on our immune system. While overcoming his own struggles with burnout and fatigue Dr. Joel Rosen discovered how the physical, mental and emotional toll of prolonged stress can help contribute to our gene expressions. We’ve asked him to share some of his toolkit to help us develop better strategies to deal with stress especially during these challenging times of uncertainty.
How Does Stress Effect Our Immune System?
When we are under stress or stressful situations the HPA axis gets released and one of the end results is excess cortisol release an anti-inflammatory and immune suppressor. While healthy levels of cortisol in the body can be a good thing because after all cortisol helps reduce inflammation, increase energy, and balances mineral, too much of it can suppress the immune system.
One Approach To Stress or Autoimmune Conditions
I’ll give you an example here, so if you were to go to a doctor for a major infection or autoimmune condition they would most likely give you hydrocortisone which acts as an immune suppressor. While this might be a temporary solution it can be a double-edged sword because you don’t want to suppress the immune system too long and at the same time you don’t want it to go out of control either. The immune system has to be able to come back into a homeostasis position to continue to do its job of recognizing viruses and bacteria and have immunity to provide resistance against them. Stress can suppress this balancing process from taking place in the body naturally.
Basically a doctor would use medications such as cortisone, hydrocortisone, and prednisone, etc to suppress the immune system temporarily while stress in the body does the same thing. Both have their place in the body temporarily, however, depending on how long this is allowed to continue can make the body more immune resistant to viruses and bacterial infections.
Is It A Good Thing To Never Get Sick?
Sometimes people will tell me that they never catch colds or get sick. While this sounds great I tell them that the body might be in a hyper-vigilant mode – meaning so on edge and possibly upregulating the sympathetic system and depleting good nutrients without a healthy balance. Now add some stress and when a cold, flu or virus comes along they may not be able to ward it off because this will depend on where their pre-existing HPA adrenal axis was before the impact of the cold, flu or virus. This is where I see many people’s health take a turn, now they are not able to recover from these things as quickly as in the past, their resistance is now lower and they are sicker than ever.
How Does Stress Impact Our Gene Expressions?
This is such a complex topic with lots of depth. The short answer here is stress reduces our ability to turn off genes. This is due to the fact that when we are under stress we do not have the extra nutrients because of rapid depletion, our detox pathways can be jammed, neurotransmitter pathways blocked, and autophagy can be less than optimal. Stress is a big deal and can cause lots of upstream problems if left unchecked.
Tips For Reducing The Stress Load That You’ve Seen Work For You And Your Practice
Here I would say be mindful of your thoughts, how you perceive what is happening around you. For example, what is real and what is perceived as real? Be aware of your surroundings, what can you control and what is out of your control. Breathwork is something that is often overlooked. Stop and breathe slow and intentional. Practice good nutrition, eat at home, make healthy meals that include micronutrients, like sprouts, greens, etc. Take vitamins and minerals each day. Exercise regularly even if it’s taking a walk, keep moving. Practice gratefulness, and maybe start a gratitude journal. Be in the moment and think about making lemonade out of lemons!