We are facing a rather stressful time, with uncertainty about both our physical and financial health. It may surprise you to learn that emotions like anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on our immune system. This happens because they cause chemical changes in the body that can cause the system that fights against foreign particles, like bacteria and viruses, to either under- or over- perform; and neither is beneficial.
The Endocannabinoid and Immune Systems
The endocannabinoid system regulates emotion, sleep, memory, appetite, pain, how we react to stress, and almost every other system in the body, including the autoimmune system. Its purpose is to maintain homeostasis, or balance. When it’s working well, we are able to face life’s challenges without becoming sick or overwhelmed.
When it’s not functioning as it should, we can be overwhelmed by anxiety or get “stuck” in a stress response that can lead to chronic disease or cause our immune system to either under- or over-react to infection. Both are damaging and interfere with our ability to protect and heal.
The Importance of Sleep
Conditions like anxiety and stress also make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Our bodies need seven to nine hours of quality sleep to heal, restore, and refresh. Lack of sleep leads to poor concentration and difficulty focusing. It can also increase pain as well. Studies show that people who sleep less than seven hours are at increased risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. So not surprisingly, insomnia can negatively impact the body’s ability to fight infection.
Fortunately, techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, massage, and meditation can reduce stress and anxiety. They can also be used to manage pain. Eastern practices like yoga, tai chi and qi gong do all that and also increase flexibility, improve balance, and strengthen muscles and all of these can be done at home. There is evidence to suggest that these practices can lead to improved sleep, decreased pain, lower blood pressure, and many other health benefits, in part, by activating receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
Combining mind-body techniques with other healthy habits like adequate sleep, hydration, moderate exercise, and plant-based nutrition, will result in tremendous benefits to your health and overall wellbeing.
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