Reduce stress and strengthen your immune system

Stress seems to have become a constant factor in today’s fast-paced society and has a direct correlation to our health.

by Sarah McLean — 

A healthy immune system regulates our body’s healing process and protects it against infections and diseases. When stress compromises our immune function, it can result in colds, flu, fatigue, cardiovascular disorders and premature aging — or big trips to the hospital. Stress increases heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, adrenaline, cortisol, free radicals and oxidative damage. This initiates the fight-or-flight response, places undue strain upon the heart, and can also increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

Stress seems to have become a constant factor in today’s fast-paced society and has a direct correlation to our health. Learning how to effectively manage stress can mean the difference between being happy and healthy, or becoming susceptible to illness and disease. The following are some natural healthy ways to reduce stress and boost the immune system for your body-mind-spirit.

Your body

Walking and physical activity (dancing, gardening, cycling, swimming, etc.) — Regular exercise and physical activity strengthen our immune and cardiovascular systems, heart, muscles and bones. They also stimulate the release of endorphins, improve mental functioning, concentration/attention and cognitive performance, and lower cholesterol, blood pressure, cortisol and other stress hormones. Three 10-minute workout sessions during the day are just as effective as one 30-minute workout, and much easier to fit into a busy schedule.

Yoga and stretching — The slow movements, breathing and controlled postures of yoga improve muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, balance, breathing and blood circulation, and promote mental focus, clarity and calmness. Yoga also makes you feel good, reduces mental and physical stress, tension and anxiety, and promotes good sleep. Plus it makes your body strong.

High-nutrient diet — Eat foods in their natural states, not processed, and incorporate more raw foods (except meat and fish, of course). Eat foods rich in antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E and lycopene), omega-3 fatty acids, and folate. Antioxidants fight and neutralize free radicals, which are molecules that damage cells and cause heart disease, cancer and premature aging. Omega-3 fatty acids (a polyunsaturated fat) have anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-enhancing and immune-regulating properties. Folate prevents age-related cognitive decline and damage to blood vessels and brain cells by lowering homocysteine levels. It also ensures DNA integrity (important as we age and during pregnancy) and promotes healthy red blood cells.

Excellent food sources for these nutrients include:

• Antioxidants — pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, grapefruit (red and pink), blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, peppers (red and green), tomatoes, broccoli, sunflower seeds, almonds and olive oil.

• Omega-3 fatty acids — flax seed, walnuts, salmon, soybeans and pumpkin seeds.

• Folate — dark green leafy vegetables (turnip greens, mustard greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, collard greens, etc.), beans, legumes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, beets and okra.

Sleep — Getting enough sound sleep has a profound impact on your stress levels, immune function and disease resistance. A chronic lack of sleep can leave you feeling sluggish, irritable, forgetful, accident-prone, and make it difficult to concentrate or cope with life’s daily aggravations. Long-term sleep deprivation can also result in depression and anxiety. Sleep is when your body and immune system do most of their repairs and rejuvenation. Strive to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Water — Regularly drinking water throughout the day removes toxins from your body and hydrates your organs. The water in sodas or juices is not the same — plain water is necessary for optimal health.

Your mind

Laugh — There is truth to the saying that laughter is the best medicine. Laughing reduces stress hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol. It also benefits your immune system by increasing the number and activity of killer T-cells, which act as the first line of defense against viral attacks and damaged cells.

Music — Listen to your favorite music as a great way to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Do not blow out your eardrums with your iPod, though. Pay attention to how you feel when you hear a particular song or genre of music, and keep playing the ones that produce a relaxing effect.

Positive thinking — Check how you view the world. Is the universe on your side, or are you always the victim? Often, how you perceive things determines whether you get overwhelmed, both mentally and physically.

Meditate — When we meditate, we silently work with a sound that weaves its way through the swirl of ideas and thoughts to help us find a calm, positive connection with ourselves. Although there are many different ways to meditate, all styles teach us to direct our attention in order to reconnect with the parts of ourselves that are most real and true.

We all face difficult and stressful situations in life. The happy, contented person you had been becomes obscured by past memories and stresses. Suddenly you feel unhappy, dissatisfied or worse; yet, often the progression is so subtle that you are at a loss when you try to determine why. Meditation is a way to improve mental functioning, experience greater intuition and creativity, and access unconscious resources and abilities.

A daily practice of reducing stress and supporting the immune system can make all the difference in your health. You can be happier, more centered, and balanced by paying attention to the things that support your body and mind.


Sarah McLean is a personal meditation instructor and former education director at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Southern California. She teaches the Primordial Sound Meditation technique in Scottsdale and Sedona, Ariz.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 2, April/May 2007.

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