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Stress & Illness: How to Break the Cycle

By Krista Elliott

I thought I'd gotten off lucky. It'd been almost a year since it last happened. But a punishing workload, erratic sleep schedule, and the demands of a busy family finally sunk me. 

The sniffles and sore throat started yesterday. 

It seems pretty predictable to be more susceptible to illness when we're stressed out and tired. But why is that? And how can you protect your health even if you're burning the candle at both ends? 

How Stress Makes You Sick

You can definitely feel stress in your brain, but you also feel it in your body, consciously or not. While your mind is frustrated, overwhelmed, and filled with a persistent desire to win the lottery so that you can run away to a tropical island, your body is busy processing all of this stress. And the results aren't pretty.

  • Your Immune System — Stress does a real number on your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off communicable illnesses like colds or the flu. Studies have shown that when experiencing severe emotional stress, we're twice as likely to get sick. And of course, getting sick stresses you out even more, because you DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS, causing an infinite feedback loop of stress and illness. 
  • Your Guts — One of the first places stress can hit us is in our digestive system. Stress not only makes us produce more digestive acid (yay, heartburn!) but it also slows down digestion and messes with the functioning of the lower bowels. So when you're stressed, you can often add in queasiness, gassiness, and even toilet issues into the mix. Are we having fun yet? 
  • Your Sleep — Think you can escape your stress by getting some shut-eye? Think again. Stress is the biggest contributing factor to insomnia and sleep disturbances, making it nigh well impossible to get the rest you need to repair your body and re-grow your quickly diminishing fuse. Yes, it's another infinite feedback loop! 

So, how do you nip the vicious cycles in the bud, reducing your stress so that your immune system, digestive system, and sleep habits can return to some semblance of normalcy? Well, barring that winning lottery ticket, there are a few tips to try. First of all, let go and say "No." You don't have to have home-cooked meals every night or a perfectly clean house, and you don't have to say yes when asked to join a committee or board. Secondly, delegate. Are there any tasks that someone else can do, even if it won't be done the way you'd do it? And third, force yourself to take a breather. Even if you just stand outside for 5 minutes, close your eyes, and take some deep breaths, it'll help you regain some calm. And lastly, don't be afraid to ask for support. If you really can't cope (and there's NO shame in that), ask your doctor for a referral for counseling or therapy. 

To learn more about your health and wellness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic.


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