How to improve immunity and live longer
We need to define the term ‘resilience’ to better understand the concepts of allostatic overload and sympathetic responses, all of which play a key role in increasing our susceptibility to infections and chronic diseases, early ageing and mortality.
Resilience is often defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, but it is more than this. It’s the ability to ‘bounce back’ and develop adaptive coping strategies in the face of adversity.
Physical (overall) resilience is the process of managing and adapting in the face of difficult circumstances, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress and pressure of daily life. Generating positive emotions and recovering quickly from negative emotions is the key to build emotional resistance. Mental resilience is achieved by setting and consistently achieving goals, and see challenges (and change) as opportunities rather than threats. Finally, being authentic and true to our beliefs, principles and values is key to spiritual resilience. It also includes a sense of purpose and living a life with meaning.
Now let’s look at all the things that can decrease our resilience. Chronic stress is indeed a major contributor. While stress is a good things, the inability to cope can have devastating effects on the body. Allostasis is defined as physiological stability through change — we feel we can cope. Allostatic load refers to the cumulative negative effects — the price the body has to pay to adapt to the various psychosocial challenges and the environment — as a results of chronic stressors or inappropriate responses that affect allostasis. ‘Allostatic overload’ is the wear-and-tear on the body and brain that result from the cumulative effect of stressors and physiological responses, being ‘stressed out’ and no longer being able to cope: demand exceeds coping skills.
It sounds complicated but just remember that coping mechanisms can make all the difference, because when we develop adaptive coping strategies, we can be more focussed and have a clearer mind. When we no longer cope, our goals become blurred and we feel anxious and deflated, a nicer word for depressed.
Chronic stress, anxiety and depression disrupt many body processes.(1) The link between stress and gut disorders cannot be denied. Stress suppresses digestion and immune defences, making our body more susceptible to microbes, toxicants (toxic substances present in our food and water), problematic food molecules (e.g. gluten, histamine, lectins and phytic acid) and even proteins, for which we can develop susceptibilities (also known as intolerances). The fragile gut lining, acting as a cheesecloth, can become damaged and let microbes, toxins and larger molecules cross into the bloodstream, activating inflammatory responses.
Stress fuels inflammation by activating the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight-or-flight’ response); however, the adrenal glands also release cortisol in response to stress. Cortisol has anti-inflammatory properties. But, over the long-term, we can become cortisol-resistant and the benefits are lost. Inflammation has reached full circle: stress generates inflammation and inflammation — a stressor for the body — further activates the sympathetic mode. We have completely lost our ability to cope, think straight (usual symptoms include brain fog, poor cognitive function) and ‘rest-and-digest’. This is greatly impacting on our psycho-spiritual resilience. We lose sight of who we are and may experience a crisis of values, meaning and purpose. We sleep less, worry more, ruminate and paint a picture of the world around us that is no longer accurate. And so, we distance ourselves and lose our connections.
Stress suppresses digestion and immune defences, making our body more susceptible to microbes, toxicants, problematic food molecules and even proteins, for which we can develop susceptibilities (also known as intolerances).
This was confirmed by a recent study published in the journal Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery The authors of the study have provided a list of the five most common barriers to resilience, which include: 1) an imbalance between work and personal life, 2) overexposure to stressful events, 3) insufficient time and space to process negative feelings, 4) humiliating experiences, and 5) social isolation.(2)
Without physical, mental and emotional connections, we cannot be resilient. It is that simple. We need a complete shift of focus, to realistically examine our predicament and understand how we got there, without judgement and by being kind to ourselves. The way we talk to ourselves is key to shift from an unresourceful state to feel more positive and empowered.
Here are ten strategies to develop resilience:
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2. Mahmoud, NN. Rothenberger, D. (2019). From burnout to well-Being: A focus on resilience. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery. 32(6): pp. 415-423. doi:10.1055/s-0039-1692710.
3. Zilioli, S. et al. (2015). Purpose in life predicts allostatic load ten years later. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 79(5), pp. 451–457. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.09.013
4. Hlubocky, FJ. Rose, M. Epstein, RM.(2017). Mastering resilience in oncology: Learn to thrive in the face of burnout. American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational book. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Annual Meeting. 2017. 37, pp. 771–781. doi:10.1200/edbk_173874
5. Baikie, KA. Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 11(5), pp. 338–346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
6. Gortner, EM. Rude, SS. Pennebaker, JW. (2006). Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms. Behavior Therapy. 37(3), pp. 292–303. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2006.01.004
7. Xia, N. Li, H. (2018). Loneliness, social isolation, and cardiovascular health. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. 28(9), pp. 837–851. doi:10.1089/ars.2017.7312
8. Chapman, BP. et al. (2013). Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 75(4), pp. 381–385. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.07.014
9. Widom, CS. Horan, J. Brzustowicz, L. (2015). Childhood maltreatment predicts allostatic load in adulthood. Child Abuse & Neglect. 47, pp. 59–69. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.01.016
Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.
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