How to Boost Immunity Even in a High-Pressure Work Set-Up
Work stress is inevitable no matter the industry or field you’re in, but it’s especially notable in high-pressure jobs or work environments. Being under constant stress can beat up your immune system.
The stress hormone cortisol is necessary in our body and one of its roles is to help reduce inflammation. However, when we are always stressed our cortisol levels can remain chronically increased. Over time this constant elevation of cortisol ends up suppressing our immune system.
Stress can also negatively affect the leukocytes, or infection-fighting white blood cells in the body. This leaves a big gap in your body’s defenses and makes you more prone to infections. Take these much-needed steps to raise your body’s immunity despite being in pressure-packed situations.
Practice building a work-life balance.
It’s one thing to be dedicated to your job and help others by becoming a team player. It’s another to be obsessed with your work to the point that you’re always in the fight-or-flight stress response mode and barely have time to relax and shift to rest-and-digest mode. Shifting to rest-and-digest mode helps keep your cortisol levels balanced and it also activates anti-inflammatory pathways that reduce chronic inflammation.
Finding the balance between work and play can help you reduce the conflicts and stress that come with your job. If you’re living with people or working from home, finding work-life balance will also help you foster better relationships with them.
Some simple ways to promote better work-life balance would be to avoid responding or viewing work messages after hours; use your allotted breaks; make room for healthy habits (more on this later); and sneak in quality time with family and loved ones.
Choose food that’s good for you
When you’re in a fast-paced, high-stakes environment, it’s tempting to eat what’s readily available, like fast food and junk food. While these are definitely convenient, they won’t benefit your body as they’re high-calorie and offer little to no nutrition. Junk and fast food can actually deplete your energy levels and make you feel more lethargic and unmotivated. These highly processed foods can also trigger inflammation, causing your immune system to become even more imbalanced.
Instead, eat vegetables and fruits, whole grains, meat, and seafood, all of which are part of a diet that provides lots of vitamins and minerals.
Get enough good-quality sleep.
You may have heard the statement “sleep is for the weak.” But if you want to be at your best, especially in stressful situations, you’ll need at least seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep each night.
Our immune system follows the circadian rhythm and is more active during the night. Sleep deprivation can make you more prone to catching infections, as well as aggravate chronic infection. In addition, lack of sleep negatively impacts your mood, patience, perception, and judgment. These can make you less efficient and productive at work, and more prone to mistakes and errors. Sleep deprivation also affects your appetite and increases your cravings for sweets, making it even harder to follow step two above. The following will help improve the quality of your sleep:
- Avoid caffeine intake after 12 noon, and limit alcohol intake during the evening.
- Avoid using digital gadgets, like cellphones, tablets, and laptops an hour or two before bed. If you must use them, make sure that you have blue light filters installed on them.
- Take a warm shower before bed.
- Establish a pre-bedtime routine.
- Practice meditation exercises.
- Journal your thoughts.
If you’re a night shifter you may want to check this article for tips on good sleep hygiene. (link to article A Night Shifter’s Guide to Recovering From Lack of Sleep)
Get physical and sneak in some exercise.In addition to its well-known benefits for your physique, exercise is also a potential way for you to relieve stress and raise your body’s immunity. According to extensive research, the right amount and type of exercise may help you:
- Feel good as it induces production of endorphins or feel-good hormones
- Relieve stress and shield your body from its negative effects
- Improve your mood and self-confidence
- Lower your risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety
Before getting your workout gear ready, take note of your fitness level and choose a workout or a class that’s best suited for your current condition.
Moreover, if you have an underlying medical condition, are experiencing pain in your body, or are over the age of 50, consult a doctor, physical therapist, or trainer first. They can guide you on the ideal exercises to do and how to properly execute them. Going full throttle without the proper guidance may increase your risk for injuries, which can potentially be another stressor.
No matter what age or position you’re occupying in the corporate world, never take your body for granted. Practicing these healthy lifestyle habits will help keep your immune system strong and prevent work stress from making you sick.
Sleep & Immunity: Can a Lack of Sleep Make You Sick? | Sleep Foundation