Changes in your nervous system due to stress can wreak havoc with your immunity, crippling its ability to fight off potentially dangerous invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
Your immune system normally sends out white blood cells to attack these invaders, but when your sympathetic nervous system is activated during stressful situations, your blood pressure and heart rate start to rise and your body releases a flood of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This drastically reduces the number of white blood cells that circulate in your body and suppresses the disease-fighting ability of the immune system.
Stress also shrinks the brain, according to a Yale study, and can trigger inflammation that causes the immune system to attack itself — as in the case of the cytokine storms that have threatened the lives of COVID-19 patients.
According to The Chopra Center, it is normal and inevitable for us to experience stress in our lives, but learning how to elicit what psychologists call the "relaxation response" can ensure that your nervous system remains healthy and can continue to do its job. Here are some ways to regulate the nervous system:
- Take an electronic break. Your nervous system becomes over stimulated by all the notifications and multitasking we face all day. Put your phone away at bedtime and shut it off for a couple of hours during the day, say the experts at The Chopra Center.
- Add magnesium to your diet. This mineral is important for a healthy nervous system, according to Top 10 Home Remedies. It also helps the body make serotonin, which relaxes the nervous system. The foods that are richest in magnesium include dark chocolate, spinach, bananas, almonds, walnuts, lentils, and brown rice. You can also take a supplement but ask your healthcare provider for the right dosage for your needs.
- Exercise. Add a little moderate-to-intense forms of exercise daily. This could be brisk walking, swimming, yoga, or even dancing to relieve stress and balance the nervous system.
- Spend time in nature. Take time to bask in the benefits of sunshine that helps produce serotonin in the body, which experts at The Chopra Center say relieves depression and improves your mood.
- Find a hobby that takes you away from everyday stress. Concentrating on something your love to do such as gardening, painting, or even watching a good movie helps take the focus away from stressful situations.
- Practice deep breathing. According to Top 10 Home Remedies, this simple but effective technique can help calm your nervous system almost instantly. Get comfortable and inhale through your nose deeply expanding your abdomen and chest. Hold for a count of 4, and then exhale fully and slowly through the mouth. Repeat this sequence for 5 to 10 minutes several times daily.
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