Balance is a brilliant word. It tells us exactly what health is: a state between too much and not enough. However, we tend to have too much stress and too little recovery. We are quite aware that being under constant stress doesn’t aid our wellbeing, but did you know that this imbalance directly affects your immune system?
Surely you’ve noticed that you are prone to getting sick when you are under permanent stress. This observation isn’t just your personal experience. Every single cell of the amazing human body reacts to stress, including the cells that belong to the immune system.
Are we talking about stressed cells? Indeed. If stress comes and goes, we don’t have a problem. It can be very motivating and positive to experience a short phase of stress. When stress persists however, it messes not only with our mood and perception but also with our cells. Permanent stress reduces the number of immunocompetent cells in the blood and hinders the activity of our natural killer cells, which are supposed to neutralize sick cells. Also, cell division of T lymphocytes, which belong to our acquired immune system, is slower than normal. As a result, our protection against pathogens is weakened.
We all know that we can’t avoid stress entirely and the good news is that we don’t have to. All we need to do is counterbalance the stress. Imagine your day as a vintage double pan balance: Place your stress in one pan and your recovery times into the other. Does the pan containing your stress sink lower than its opponent? If yes, the message is clear: You need to stock up on the other pan. The great news is that there are simple steps to reduce stress in your daily life which, firstly, will make you feel better and secondly, will empower the cells of your immune system.
1. Balance obligation and recreation
Do you, like most of us, fill your down time with work-related stuff instead of doing something just for fun? What’s interesting is that the more stressed out we are, the more energy we invest in our obligations instead of doing recreational activities. Let’s say you love reading and you choose specialized literature in order to utilize your new knowledge in your job. Ambition is brilliant but we all need a space where we can unwind. Here’s a suggestion: Read a book that has nothing to do with your profession for a change. Choose one that brings you joy. You’ll be amazed how good it feels to read for pleasure. Plus, it’ll be delightful to not take notes or to skip a few sentences and still be able to effortlessly follow the plot.
This is what downtime feels like: Lean back, read a book and dive into a world that has nothing to do with your obligations. Doing so, your cells are given the chance to regenerate. It doesn’t have to be reading, of course. Choose something you look forward to: go for a walk without thinking about your obligations, watch a movie, learn a new language or spend time in your garden.
One more piece of advice: Schedule your joy activities. Why? To make sure that you actually do them and get used to investing time in joyful stuff. By giving more weight to joy, the two pans will eventually find equilibrium. This balance nurtures the cells that belong to your immune system and helps them function properly
2. Harmonize activity and rest
Speaking of scheduling, there is another task you may want to add: doing nothing. Yes, you heard correctly. Schedule a space in the evening or on the weekend where you don’t do a thing, not even a fun thing. To function optimally the human body needs both, activity and rest. It’s obvious when we look at our sleep-wake cycle but it also applies to our daily routine. The more stress we have, the more time we need to unwind.
Less is more, even when it comes to your downtime. Try this: Make no plans whatsoever for your evening. Practice, even celebrate, doing nothing. Value it. Value yourself while doing nothing. Switch off your smartphone, your computer, the music – everything. Enjoy the silence. Become aware how refreshingly soothing it feels to not have to go places and to not have to achieve something. You can, you may but you don’t have to. Allow yourself to bathe in this awareness and soak it all up until you can feel the pans of activity and rest leveling out. If you listen closely, deeply into the peace of doing nothing, you might even hear your cells cheering because you are taking such great care of them.
3. Reset your priorities
Are you wondering how on earth you are supposed to make time for activities dedicated to pure joy and on top of it all include spaces of doing nothing? Let me ask you this: How come you don’t have time to unwind and have fun, while you always manage to squeeze in urgent appointments or additional work load? We always make time for the things we consider important. Work is important, sure. But what about your wellbeing?
Your health is the biggest asset you have. Taking care of yourself next weekend or next holiday doesn’t do it. Stop postponing your inner balance. I know, everything on your to do list is urgent but being healthy is the prerequisite to being productive. Everything depends on our physical and mental wellbeing. It is only logical that your health needs to be your upmost priority.
At the end of the day, you won’t loose time when you do joyful activities and allow yourself to unwind. On the contrary, you’ll have more energy, you’ll work smarter and faster than ever because you are balanced and energetic. You’ll see an increase in both, quality time and life quality. Remember this and smile when you are scheduling your joy appointments and your doingnothing times. Appreciate this shift in your priorities and the beneficial effect it has on your inner balance as well as your immune system.
A balanced life
Please take a look at your weekly schedule again. When before one look was enough to trigger a stress reaction, it now represents a balanced, fulfilled life. Everything has its place: your obligations and duties, your joyful activities and your recovery times. Your schedule now shows you that your work, your self-care and spending time with your loved ones is equally important and the cells of your immune system reflect this balance and can unfold their full potential.
Mental health & fitness trainer, linguist, podcast creator, founder of YUNA® and positive communications coach.