During the lockdown many people, especially the elderly, will have experienced long periods of social isolation. Yet, social interaction and communication are essential not only for cooperation within a group, but also for health and wellbeing protection from environmental threats.
Plus, this is possibly one of the most beneficial aspects of establishing a society, in that companionship provides a defence for the subject from likely threats like anxiety which is not good for our mind and general health.
Solitude itself can be a stressor and induce a high trauma response through social isolation. This ‘isolation syndrome’, is characterised by extreme levels of stress responses to a variety of stimuli 1,2 and have been related to a risk of physiological and mental illness according to latest research.
On the other hand, social grouping has a distinct characteristic that delivers a better recovery from adverse experiences, termed ‘social buffering’ and hence social support can have a positive influence on human health.
So, whatever the outcome of government advice might be moving forwards, it is worth considering the stress the lockdown might have caused whatever age as a result of social isolation.
The impact of stress on the immune system
Stressful experiences can precipitate depression and anxiety, and stress-induced changes in physiology including effecting our immune systems.
Stress-inducing situations require the activation of our immune system, and vice versa. As such, our hormonal and the immune systems have come to be intricately co-regulated, affecting functions such as energy allocation, reproduction, learning, mood, and behaviour.
Considerable evidence indicates that psychological stress induces immune activation via the same signalling pathways as physiological stress – the process of “sterile” inflammation, and that stress evoked inflammation may also be linked to the causes of depression.
Stress is an undercurrent in most aspects of health, an effect mediated by the regulation between hormonal and immune systems in both health and illness. Stress enhances and suppresses the immune function depending on the type, duration, and frequency of stressors, combination of stress hormones released, and the particular aspect of immunity being examined.
Both the immune-enhancing and immunosuppressive actions of stress hormones have been framed what experts’ term – an adaptive strategy – that either promotes inflammatory processes necessary for wound healing, or one that conserves energy during critical situations by suppressing energy-consuming immune processes.
However, experiencing stressors of yet longer durations such as hours to weeks can permanently alter the underlying biology of our bodies that enables normal enhancement or suppression of the immune system by stress, and causes either chronic excessive inflammation or a state of immunosuppression, both of which are bad for our health and well-being.
One way to improve immune status as a result of the negative effects of stress on immunity is to take a high quality, high potency broad spectrum multivitamin.
The Alive! range of vitamin and mineral food supplements, from Nature’s Way in the UK, has been specifically formulated to ‘plug nutrient gaps’ and help bring the nation’s health back on track. Suitable for vegetarians, Alive! is available in tablets and Soft Jells, with a vast product range including bespoke, evidence backed UK formulations for the whole family to cater for women, men and the healthy growth of children through all life stages.
Each Alive! product contains a unique dried blend of 26 whole Orchard Fruits and Garden Vegetables plus the Alive! Ultra Wholefood Plus range also features unique botanical blends carefully selected for men, women and men and women over fifty www.feelaliveuk.com
Stress and sleep
Poor sleep has itself is a chronic stressor exerting cumulative wear and tear on our bodies. Chronic stress and poor sleep share similar physiological effects:
Both have been shown to activate hormonal pathways and to adversely impact the immune system and memory
Increasingly, researchers are focusing on the role of compounds known as cytokines to understand the complex relationships between stress, immune function, depression and sleep behaviour.
It is thought such research may provide clues to the common physiological mechanisms through which sleep, stress and illness interact. There now exists an extensive body of research supporting the role of psychological stress in health and illness. (e.g.).
Data from sleep research studies suggest that many people obtain insufﬁcient amounts of sleep each night with around 20 per cent of study subjects sleeping less than six hours per night, a sharp increase from the 13 per cent reported in earlier research.
As with chronic stress, research has demonstrated an association between naturally occurring insufﬁcient sleep duration and self-reported health/illness along with a variety of health variables including:
Hypertension and heart disease
Susceptibility to the common cold.
Insomnia, anxiety and depression
A two-way relationship has been found between insomnia, anxiety, and depression, suggesting that insomnia predicts and is predicted by anxiety and depression. So successful treatment of insomnia may prevent the onset of subsequent or exacerbation of co-morbid anxiety or depression, and vice-versa.
Interestingly, insomnia could predict depression more consistently than depression predicts insomnia. Various types of mechanisms may explain the bi-directional association between insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Common neurobiological underpinnings (i.e., neurotransmitters and brain structures) have been associated with insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Batterham and colleagues hypothesize there may also be biological factors such as increased inflammatory dysregulation in response to sleep disturbances that are associated with anxiety and depression.
Stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression are all interlinked. As a result, improving sleep quality has a beneficial effect on other aspects of mind and brain health. A number of natural options are available to address all of the above issues dependent upon which particular symptom is most troublesome.