Holiday Health: Stress and the Let-Down Effect
Have you ever felt lucky to survive the holidays without illness, only to get sick days after?
Stress and the Let-Down Effect Connection
The Let-Down Effect is a real psychological-physical phenomenon. I often see a high number of very ill patients in my emergency room during the holiday season, beginning with just after Thanksgiving and extending after New Years. It’s no surprise. For many families, the additional activities of traveling, gift-giving, or entertaining guests can be both exciting and stressful.
Therefore, when the guests are gone and the excitement fades, many people find themselves falling ill or experiencing uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, or breakouts, due to a phenomenon called the Let-Down Effect.
What is the Let-Down Effect?
The Let-Down Effect occurs when the body produces an immune response (i.e., we get sick or experience some type of headache or flare-up) just after a stressful event has subsided. For example, maybe you finished a project deadline, dealt with a family emergency, or endured some other adrenaline pumping event. In reality, our bodies often hold up quite well until we finally relax and slow down. People are most susceptible to the Let-Down Effect after stress/excitement passes.
The Let-Down Effect is the equivalent of going from 100mph to a dead stop in a car. It's not good for your car, and it's not good for your body.
Why does the Let-Down Effect happen?
Most people would assume that our bodies get sick while we are in the midst of a stressful event. This is true in some cases, but often times our body is able to protect itself during peak stress, then become susceptible to attacks when the worst is over.
What your Body is doing Post-Stress
While we are under stress, our bodies produce a number of chemicals – particularly stress hormones – that protect our immune system against illness. However once the stressful period is over, our immune system eases on its heightened state, and viral/bacterial invaders are often likely to take hold. As a result, people often come down with a cold, a cold sore outbreak, or a flare up of autoimmune issues. There are two chemicals that could be at play:
- Glucocorticoids (a steroid hormone) are released during stressful periods and can reactivate a latent virus. In other words, a suppressed virus in your body suddenly is able to become active in reproducing and spreading to other cells in your body. The effect: you get sick.
- Prostaglandins (a group of hormone-like substances) are also released as a stress response, which produce inflammation that can trigger migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic illness flare ups.
Other Factors that Increase your Risk for Getting Sick
- Increased exposure to viruses, bacteria, and parasites when flying or other close quarters
- During winter months, spaces are more enclosed with prolonged face-to-face contact
- Low humidity in winter means that viruses remain in the air longer and increase the possibility of breathing them in.
- How do you combat holiday travel in crowded enclosed spaces, and safeguard yourself from the Let-Down Effect?
How to Avoid the Let-Down Effect
Though stress is inevitable in many instances, we can follow several easy tips to protect our bodies from the post-stress slump.
Lower your stress gradually after the stressful event has passed.
If you have trouble managing your stress, there is hope. Though lowering your stress gradually may sound counterintuitive, doing the opposite is the equivalent of going from 100mph to a dead stop in a car. It’s not good for your car, and it’s not good for our bodies. By gradually lowering the stress, we are helping our bodies transition to a new balance. How do you achieve this? Once your stressful event has subsided, try engaging in other intense physical and mental exercises, then slowly taper down to relax.
Are you getting enough? Despite all the late night celebrations, rest is your immune system’s way of restoring its strength. Studies have even shown that more than 7 hours of sleep reduces your risk of becoming ill by 4 times.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, which can be dehydrating and often contains high amounts of sugar, which is naturally inflammatory to the body.
Keep nasal passages moist.
Drugstores today now commonly sell saline sprays that are compact and extremely easy to use. Spritzing throughout the day will ensure your nasal passages are able to block germs from entering the body, and saline is naturally disinfecting.
Manage your stress.
There are thousands of resources online that suggest ways to manage your stress. Some of my favorites are: meditating, learning to pace yourself, taking frequent breaks throughout the day, and practicing deep breathing. Take a look at the infographic below for more ideas.
Airplane Travel Tips
Airplanes can also be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Consider these tips to try the next time you fly.
- Wipe down your tray tables and head rest. These parts of your seat tend to get the most use and often the least disinfected.
- Cover your mouth and nose. If you don’t want to wear a mask, try wearing a thin scarf. This will limit your exposure to viruses from passengers within 2 seats or one row from you on the plane.
- Turn air vents so they avoid blowing on you. Air is recirculated in planes, so pointing the vents directly on you will expose you to more germs from throughout the plane.
- Reconsider the aisle seat. Many passengers returning from the restroom touch the seats as they pass. If they aren’t practicing good hand-washing habits, these germs are ending up on these seats.
- Remove travel clothes as soon as possible. Part of the equation of staying healthy is about limiting your exposure to germs. By not showering or not changing into clean clothes after sitting on an airplane for hours, you are keeping germs close by and giving them the opportunity to invade when they see vulnerabilities in your body, whether it is because of stress, cold, hunger, or exhaustion.
The Easiest Tip for Preventing Colds: Water
Hydration is one of the most important factors to help you avoid getting sick, and is one of the simplest to maintain.
- Drink Water. 8 oz every 2 hours
- Bone broth. Bone broth is a new trendy term for an old concept – drinking chicken soup. Its amino acids and minerals support immunity, is anti-inflammatory, and flushes out mucus build up.
- Hot water with lemon honey and cinnamon. Each of these ingredients is anti-inflammatory and prevents mucus build up. And is a delicious concoction to sip!
- Garlic. Garlic is known to boost immunity and is easily added to many dishes, including bone broth.
- Ginger. Ginger is another anti-inflammatory ingredient, and can be added to water to enjoy as a tea. A little bit of honey added for sweetness will also ease cold symptoms and nourish your body.
Herb and supplements
These herbs and supplements are known to improve your immune system.
- Vitamin C: 1gm 3-4 x day
- Echinacea: 1gm 2-3 times a day
- Elderberry: 10ml daily
- Oregano oil: 500mg twice a day
- Zinc: 50-100mg a day
- Vitamin D: 5,000IU twice a day
Things to Avoid
- Processed and fast food. These products offer no nutrients for supporting your immune system and are toxic to the body.
- Refined grains. These highly processed grains are easily converted into sugar in the body and weaken immunity and encourage inflammation
- Sugar. The white stuff weakens the abilities of white blood cells that help fight off infection. This includes fruit juices with added sugars
- Conventional dairy. Milk may make congestion worse with thicker phlegm.
Final Concerns and Tips When Traveling
Lastly, one thing many people avoid talking about but often experience is the concern about leaking or always needing a bathroom while traveling. Millions suffer with annoying leaks when they cough, sneeze, laugh, or jump – or feel the urge for the bathroom all too often. Thankfully, there is a new revolutionary treatment to improve your incontinence symptoms: to help you sleep through the night or finish a round of golf without a bathroom break. The BTL Emsella is a high frequency electromagnetic device that contracts the pelvic muscles for you, providing you 11,200 kegels in 28 minutes while fully clothed reading a book! I am so excited about this that I wanted to share a new promotion for 40% off two Emsella packages with your friends now until Dec 31 2019. You can schedule your complimentary Emsella consult online at anitawangmd.com.
The Let-Down Effect is a real phenomenon that describes millions of people who get sick every year just after hectic holiday activities subside. However, with proper care and preparation, we can improve our chances of keeping our immune systems healthy and strong during these stressful times. Dr. Wang can measure stress levels and other micronutrients in the body in her wellness assessments, and make lifestyle recommendations to help you reach your optimal health and beauty.
Have a vibrant and healthy holiday season!
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