There are a few big factors that are known to contribute to the risk of developing autoimmune disease. Genetics and diet are the main ones. What you may not know is that there are also lifestyle causes, in particular stress. Our resident nutritionist and certified autoimmune coach—Chloe Moore—talks to us about stress and what you can do about it.
Stress tips the scales
Now I’m not saying if you’re stressed, you’re going to get an autoimmune disease. What I am saying is, if you already have the genetic predisposition, a nutrient deficient diet, plus exposure to various environmental factors that are associated with autoimmune diseases, then lifestyle habits—such as chronically high stress—may end up tipping the scales in the direction of autoimmune disease.
How is stress involved in autoimmune disease?
Have you heard of the fight-or-flight response? Historically, in times of stress (i.e. faced with a sabre-toothed tiger), our body is flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to either have the strength to fight the enemy, or run away as fast as we can from the imminent danger. Once the threat has passed, our adrenaline and cortisol begin to return to normal, and on we go.
Small things turn into big things
However, in today’s 24-hour society, we are constantly exposed to little stressors. Sitting in traffic, getting a passive-aggressive email from a colleague, fighting with a partner, an unexpected bill, checking an online daily ‘news’ website, sleeping in and missing your alarm for work, arguing with your kids, or forgetting to bring your lunch for work to name a few.
These are all potentially minor in the grand scheme of things. However, the build up has an effect on your stress hormones. A bit like a dripping air conditioner, the constant trickle of these events eventually turns into a flood on your lounge room floor. And with stress, the hormones (especially cortisol) don’t return to normal, and you end up with chronically high stress.
Stress dysregulates the immune system
Chronically high stress can have a dysfunctional effect on the immune system. It can increase inflammatory markers and reduce the ability of the immune system to regulate itself. This is known to contribute to autoimmune disease.
How to manage stress levels
So what can you do to manage your stress levels?
It’s ok to say NO!
Firstly, it’s ok to say NO. You do not need to agree to do everything, be everything, and be everywhere. My biggest piece of advice is to write a list of your hobbies and extra-curricular responsibilities, and prioritise them from number 1 down. Be honest. Is there anything on that list that can be delegated? Can your partner cook dinner a couple of nights a week? Do the grocery shopping? Could you do the grocery shopping online? Could the kids do more age-appropriate chores? Can you hire a cleaner to do the vacuuming to take some load off you? Even if it’s once a fortnight so you get a chance to rest.
Lean on your support network
Having a supporting network around you is so important when it comes to your health. One thing I am learning is that not every single person in your support network has to be around for every little thing. You may have a friend who is great for when you need to cry or vent, but may not be able to be there to watch your kids for an hour if you need to pop up to the shops or have a nap. You may have an amazing neighbour or parents who could help with that.
What about mindfulness? I’ll be honest. I have tried mindfulness apps before, and I just get frustrated. I also have friends and clients who love them! It’s a really individual thing. What is important is spending some time each day where you’re absolutely present. Try the apps, yoga, meditation. What about your creative side? Art, music, writing, dancing, craft? I am currently teaching myself the ukulele and aim for around 20 minutes each day. Mindfulness does not have to be sitting and breathing for 20 minutes. It has to feel good for you. You can even colour in!
How about taking a bath, or treating yourself to a massage or a pedicure? I love having a float session. They are popping up all over the place, and it’s total sensory deprivation. Bliss!
Come in for a consultation
If you want to talk about your autoimmune condition and how to manage it, you can book online anytime, or call the clinic on 1300 03 03 25.