If this year hasn't been stressful enough, spoiler alert....your stress is also making you sick.
In Natural Medicine, the the mind body connection is a large component in understanding disease therefore when we speak about the effects of stress on your overall health and wellbeing it is important to note that a holistic approach is vital.
Is there a link between our mood/mental health and our digestive health?
Essentially, yes. The communication system between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis. This is composed of a series of nerve connections to your gut/digestive system. The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions. However, stress inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve and also causes gastrointestinal problems like IBS, Crohn's disease. In your gut, gut microbes produce a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. certain foods with probiotic properties can increase the production of these beneficial neurotransmitters which help to manage conditions like anxiety, stress and depression. The gut microbes also play a vital role in the regulation of the immune system and inflammation in response to what we eat. In cases of leaky gut syndrome, there may be excess amounts of inflammatory toxins produced in the gut which can be associated with many psychological conditions like depression and Alzheimer's disease .
What are the most common conditions that may occur or worsen due to stress? 
Headaches, muscular tension and fibromyalgia
Depression and anxiety
Insomnia and fatigue
Accelerated ageing and premature death
Can Stress have an effect on your immune system?
Yes, during times of stress the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections and often become sick when we are under stress.The stress hormone corticosteroid is produced normally to control the immune system from becoming overactive and reduces inflammation but when produced in large amounts over time it can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes). In addition, unhealthy coping mechanisms like eating unhealthy foods, drinking alcohol and smoking/substance abuse and further affect your overall health .
How can I manage my stress?
It is important to recognise when we are not coping on a psychological level. Often, when we do not address the underlying issues causing our stress it starts to affect our physical health and result in conditions like those mentioned earlier. Do not wait until you are on the verge of a breakdown, seek help from a professional to assist with counselling where you can get advice on healthy coping mechanisms and self help techniques.
Exercise not only increases blood circulation, manages your weight and keeps your heart functioning optimally but also helps to increase production of endorphins which make you feel good .
2. Healthy diet
Eat healthy foods high in antioxidants and fiber to improve the Gut microbiome and allow the good bacteria to improve your mood .
3. Do Breathing Exercises
Studies show that diaphragmatic breathing can lower cortisol which is a hormone released during stress which is associated with depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Diaphragmatic breathing could improve sustained attention, affect, and cortisol levels .
4. Herbal medicine
There are so many herbs that can be used to manage stress that have calming and sedating effects. Some of them include Lavender, Passion flower and Valerian . Apart from herbs for stress, there are also herbs that can be used for the conditions that arise due to stress like heart disease, depression, muscular pain and headaches to name a few. However, this should only be taken under the advisement of a qualified Natural Medicine practitioner as many herbs interact with medication and are contraindicated in certain patients.
5. Alternative therapies
Cupping therapy can significantly relieve fatigue symptoms and improved emotion and sleep .
Studies have shown evidence for many of the physiological effects of massage, such as its ability to relax skeletal muscle, increase blood and lymph circulation and reduce anxiety. Massage therapy has beneficial effects can be implemented to reduce stress and anxiety in acutely hospitalised psychiatric patients .
Research also shows that Acupuncture treatment is effective in alleviating the depressive-like behaviour in mice, and this therapeutic effect was produced through central brain neural activity and serotonin receptor modulation .
The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please consult a qualified practitioner if you suffer from any of the conditions mentioned.
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