As semesters are ending, infections bugs and flus are beginning. Why?Why can we get through weeks of busy and stressful studies in reasonable health, only to come down with flu as soon as we relax and start enjoying our “freedom?” Paul Rosch, MD, president of the American Institute of Stress and clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College, has the answer.
When you’re straining and struggling under the burden of work or family pressures, your body releases a number of chemicals — including stress hormones — which mobilize your immune system against illness. But when the stressful period ends, your immune system pulls back its troops, and the body becomes less vigilant in weeding out invaders. At the same time, a reservoir of body chemicals called prostaglandins, left over from the stress response, tends to produce inflammation, and can trigger problems like arthritic pain and migraines.
In fact, this effect has been noticed in even more significant life changes as well:
While the let-down effect can cause trouble at any time, many people with pressure-packed jobs seem particularly susceptible to illness when they ease up on weekends, or when they finally reach retirement age and come down for good from their high-wire act. “For someone used to a high level of ongoing activity, who has their identity tied up in their job, retirement can be a real problem. It may become a source of stress in itself.”
Dr Marc Shoen offers some tips to defuse the “let-down effect.”
- Schoen recommends techniques that activate the immune system a little, and thus keep it from slowing down too rapidly after a period of stress. Try short bursts of exercise — even just five minutes in length — which can trigger a positive immune-system response.
- Try some mental problem solving, like crossword puzzles, under time constraints. “Several studies show that doing math computations at a rapid pace actually increases immune-system activity,” says Schoen.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, which can give your mind and body a rest stop from the day’s anxieties.