With flu season in full swing, Health Net, Inc. is working toincrease awareness of not only standard flu-fighting basics such ashabitual hand washing, but also of the strong connection betweenstress levels and susceptibility to respiratory infections,including flu.

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“When we talk about seasonal flu, the focus most often is onvaccinations and good hygiene—both of which are important—butthere’s a tendency to overlook the strong connection between mentalhealth and physical health,” explains Jonathan Scheff, chiefmedical officer, Health Net, Inc. “Several studies have presentedpowerful evidence supporting the mind-body connection and thatconnection certainly applies to the impact of stress on our immunesystem.”

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The American Psychological Association assessed some 300 studiesand concluded long-term stress significantly suppresses the immunesystem. Other findings included:

  • The longer the stress, the more negative change in the immunesystem.
  • The most chronic stressors—stress that seems beyond a person’scontrol—resulted in the most global suppression of immunity, withnearly all measures of immune system function droppingmeasurably.
  • Immune system functioning that is compromised by high levels ofstress lowers the body’s ability to fend off flus and colds; and,once a person actually catches a cold or flu, stress also canworsen the symptoms.

Stress-management tips

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“Just as we take precautions to avoid contracting flu viruses,we also should take precautions to keep our stress levels incheck,” Scheff says. The APA offers the following tips:

  • Identify your sources of stress. The firststep in managing stress is identifying what events or situationstrigger stressful feelings. Make a list of situations that can beemotionally challenging for you, and learn to recognize them whenthey occur. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate or reduce thosesituations that trigger a stress reaction.
  • Learn your stress signals. Stress manifestsitself in different ways. For some, stress impacts their ability toconcentrate, while others feel angry or experience headaches andmuscle tension. By being aware of your personal stress signals, youwill be in a better position to combat stress.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress. Whileactivities such as smoking, drinking alcohol or overeating maytemporarily relieve stress, these are unhealthy behaviors that canhave dire consequences. Instead, consider healthy, stress-reducingactivities such as meditation, exercising or simply spending timewith loved ones.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet,get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and engage in regularphysical activity. It’s also important to take vacations andotherwise make time for yourself, even if that only equates toengaging in simple activities such as reading a book or listeningto music.


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