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How is COVID-19's Shelter in Place Stress Is Impacting People with Inflammatory Conditions



COVID-19 has brought about a whole host of stressors, whether it’s over the possibility of contracting the virus, anxieties over finances, or dealing with the physiological and psychological aftermath of being confined to our homes. While some day-to-day stress can be normal, especially in trying times like these, unchecked stress can have extremely adverse effects on overall health and wellbeing, especially with regards to inflammation.


Stress and Inflammation


Cortisol, our body’s stress hormone, can be helpful at times. It’s what keeps us going throughout the day; it maintains our blood sugar levels to keep our brain and muscles going. However, when a stressful event happens, cortisol levels spike and take hours to level off. And if stress is constant and never-ending, we get cortisol malfunction and a ton of inflammation. Unfortunately, inflammation has been scientifically linked to diabetes, heart disease, and plays a significant role in the formation of many autoimmune diseases.


Stress and Autoimmune Disease


Autoimmune disease is caused by the body’s immune system misfiring and attacking its own tissues and organs. And in this article, we’ll define stress as anything that causes tension, whether physical or emotional, that ignites a flight or fight response. The body’s adrenal glands release adrenaline, which can be helpful in fighting off an immediate danger, but not in reaction to persistent stresses.


While the link between stress and autoimmune disease is still being studied, a study by JAMA at the American Medical Association suggests that individuals with stress-related disorders were more likely to have autoimmune diseases--or even have multiple compared to those without. They also developed autoimmune disease earlier in life.


Managing Stress


Consequently, it’s important to keep your stress, and thereby, inflammation, in check. We’d recommend the following:


  • Keeping your body in good shape: Be mindful of your diet, sleep, exercise, hydration and personal hygiene.

  • Taking breaks: We encourage everyone to take 5-10 minute breaks when possible. That could be taking a quick walk around the block, meditating in a quiet space, or listening to some soothing music.

  • Maintaining a healthy perspective: Self talk is extremely important. We encourage everyone to challenge their thoughts, especially “all or nothing” dichotomous thinking and “should” thoughts, which can both be counterproductive.

  • Remembering to breathe: If you’re struggling with anxiety, intentional breathing, in and out of your nose, can help you stay grounded in the present.