Monday, January 21, 2008 in , , , , , , , , , ,

Stress Less and Stay Well - Aromatherapy Winter Wellness #2

The other day as I was swiping my nose and snuffling through congestion I thought to myself this has certainly been one of my sickest winters in a long time. I am largely convinced that this is due to the fact that Tru has started preschool and has been little more than a walking petri dish. She has been sick with something at least every few weeks, and as mom I get the lovely job of sleeping with the unhappy, germ-infested child. It isn't easy to avoid catching whatever she might have when she is breathing on me all night... I try valiantly but it is a difficult fight to win.

There are many things that can make us susceptible to germs. Stress has been getting some attention in recent years as a cause of chronic illnesses as well as the average cold. All of us are affected by stress in some way. How we manage it can help stave off the sniffles or something much more serious like cancer. The Garvan Institute in Australia was responsible for correlating a key stress hormone called neuropeptide Y (NPY), and its interference with immune response.

According to their website, and related articles on Wikipedia neuropeptide Y is a hormone that is released from neurones when the body is under stress. Neuropeptide Y is also involved with the activation of immune cells that are our first line of defense against pathogens. The immune cells activate the lymph nodes, where the body's response to the pathogen is determined. If NPY is being emitted on a chronic and regular basis it deactivates the second phase of the immune response that would actually eliminate the invaders. The immune system has a cycle that must be followed and reset. That reset is not possible if the initial hormones remain elevated.

Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist for Carnegie Mellon University has been able to correlate stress with the onset of depression and worsening of cardiovascular disease. View an article about his research on Science Daily . His research encompassed 2 facets of why stress impacts health: behavioral, and hormonal. The behavioral aspect has to do with the fact that stressed people often do not take proper care of their bodies - indulging in greater excesses of drinking, food, and smoking and not sleeping or exercising properly. The hormonal aspect is exactly what the Garvin institute was concerned with.

If you read my post about scent and memory during the holidays you'll probably remember that scent affects the limbic system. The limbic system is directly linked to your adrenal gland, the pituitary and hypothalamus. These glands function together to control crucial functions like heart rate, breathing, mood, and, yes, stress. This is a key part of your "fight-or-flight" response. You sense your environment, the body prepares itself for action, and you act based on your excitement, fear, or happiness. The scent of smoke, for example, should provoke you to move quickly to evade fire. This system was not designed to be in a state of constant excitement. Much like the "Little Boy Who Cried Wolf", if you are constantly under stress your system may not be functioning well when you really need it the most. Pathogens represent a specific kind of stress to the body. To be able to fight them off we need all our body's resources available.

So, what can you do?
Check out my next post on how essential oils can help you reduce stress and stay well.

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