What Is Inflammation? What Does It Have To Do With Stress And What Can We Do About It?
Inflammation is a term that is being used more and more in the marketing of health and wellness products. It is used by clinicians, health professionals, first aiders, and holistic healers. But what exactly is inflammation and why is it something that health conscious individuals should be aware of?
Generally speaking, inflammation is a reaction; it is the immune system’s response to irritants, foreign invaders, and toxins that threaten our bodies. Visible signs of minor inflammation include redness, swelling and burning sensations. If you have a wound and experience swelling and redness around the site of the wound, you are witnessing an inflammatory response as behind the scenes blood cells are rushing to the site, killing germs and bacteria to prevent the spread of infection.
However, chronic inflammation is the product of a continued response to unwanted substances or threats. While minor inflammation responds to acute injuries and illnesses, chronic inflammation answers to prolonged responses which conclusively give way to chronic diseases.
“Chronic inflammation happens when this response lingers...leaving your body in a constant state of alert. Over time, chronic inflammation may have a negative impact on your tissues and organs” (Santos-Longhurst, 2018).
In recent years, western medicine has come to accept that inflammation and injury also have an impact on the brain. Many studies now identify the correlation between inflammation and mental illness such as depression. As a consequence, new areas of expertise have developed in medicine such as psychoimmunology which investigates the connection between the mind and the immunsystem.
Therefore, psychoimmunology asks, if inflammation resides in our body or even builds up over time, can this lead to mental or physical trauma? Can inflammation be treated with more than physical therapies? If chronic inflammation persists what is the implication on our mental wellbeing as well as physical health if left untreated?
Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. David Hanscom recently stated, “we now know that Cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders, obesity, adult-onset diabetes, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder—all are chronic conditions connected to sustained inflammatory and metabolic destruction of tissues” (Hanscom, 2021).
Regardless, current practices in the medical world have yet to catch up with the findings of the latest studies as mental illnesses are still generally ignored as possible symptoms of inflammatory disorders and vica versa. Despite this setback there are certain practical things people can do to reduce inflammation and improve both their mental and physical health without medical consultation.
In Plan A – Lowering Inflammation Lengthens life, Hanscom discusses several proactive ways to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body which are large groups of signalling proteins which regulate the immune system and inflammatory responses.
Hanscom goes into great detail on these techniques, but astonishingly these tips are not rocket science and are very simple to follow, seven of these have been outlined below:
- Use calming techniques – It is important to limit our exposure to stressful environments and negative talk, an effective way to reduce one’s susceptibility to stress is to practice deep breathing exercises and meditation. Breathing exercises in Don’t Tone Alone CIC’s mobile application make it easy to access calming techniques at the touch of a button.
- Employ expressive writing techniques – Spilling your thoughts on paper can help you acknowledge and process any anxieties or fears. Also the practice of journaling and documenting creates space for reflection and helps identify situations that might be causing stress. A great technique is to jot down an issue that is causing you stress followed by the steps that you will need to take to eliminate that stress. This practice will help you to strategically manage your problems step by step and build proactive solutions.
- Get enough sleep – Adequate sleep is essential for managing stress and our body’s fight or flight response. Sleep is also necessary for our bodies to heal and repair and is essential for managing our inflammatory responses.
- Good Nutrition – What we eat plays a key role in managing pro-inflammatory cytokines. Leafy greens, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, so it is important that these foods feature regularly as part of a healthy diet.
- Maintain an exercise routine – Moving our bodies not only helps it to flush out harmful toxins but it is also an excellent stress reducer and confidence booster.
- Staying on top of medical problems – If you have a medical issue that needs addressing, don’t ignore it. It is important to stay on top of anything that may potentially cause your body more harm if left untreated.
- Give back – The entire process of helping others can help to boost our sense of purpose, self- esteem, and trigger oxytocin levels which benefit our well-being.
On the 26th of February, Don’t Tone Alone CIC will be hosting a decision-making and well-being webinar. Every day we are presented with thousands of choices; some big and others small. How we respond to these choices can affect our wellbeing. If every action has a reaction, to what extent do our day-to-day interactions affect the way we live our lives, and how could these be made better? This workshop will provide participants with the tools needed to manage stress and help get to grips with aspects of our lives that might be negatively impacting our well-being and thus our inflammatory responses. Tickets are on sale via Eventbrite and can be purchased through the following link.
Rebekah Daunt, Communications and Research Specialist at Don’t Tone Alone
- Bhatt, D. (2017) What is inflammation? Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, February. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-disease-overview/ask-the-doctor-what-is-inflammation
- Hanscom, D. (2021) Plan A- Lowering Inflammation Lengthens Life, Vertus Press.
- Santos-Longhurst, A. (2018) Understanding and Managing Chronic Inflammation, Healthline, July 27th. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-inflammation
- Segerstrom, S. & Miller, G. (2006) Psychological stress and the human immune system: A meta-analytic study of 30 years inquiry, Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), pp. 601-630. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/