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Published on September 15, 2020

How stress leads to inflammation: Putting Out the Fire – Part Four

Putting Out the Fire - Part Four

Dr. Sid describes how stress can lead to long-term health issues… and why developing resilience can help

We bounce back. Nothing slows us down. We come out stronger at the other end of a shocker.

Personifying these traits speaks to an individual’s resilience.

What does it mean to be “resilient”?

The concept of resilience is often understood as a steady state of ‘’immunity’’ against negative effects of stress. There is more to it, according to social psychology research. Being resilient is a constantly evolving set of three processes: Recovery, Sustainability and Growth.

  • Recovery from major stressors with a return to baseline functioning (‘’I bounce back’’).
  • Sustainability shown by working through the stressors without any major disruption to baseline functioning (‘’Nothing slows me down’’).
  • Growth seen as enhanced adaptation beyond original levels of baseline functioning, in other words (‘’I come out stronger at the other end of a shocker’’).

Lack of resilience lets long-term stress to have negative impacts on our health.

The connection between stress, inflammation and immunity

Long-term stress causes depression by changing your brain. Such changes in the brain (called “neuroinflammation’’) leads to negative inflammatory effects on many other systems in the body through channels of nerve circuits (‘flight/fright response’), hormonal pathways from head to toe, and the immune system.

Long-term stress suppresses immune function. It also worsens other long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, dementia, heart disease, fatty liver. How long is long-term? A stressful period as short as 4 weeks can plant the seed for poor health. Researchers found that healthy young adults in their 20s had negative effects on blood circulation after 4 weeks of inadequate sleep in the setting of high stress during academic exams. Such changes in circulation herald impairment of arteries that supply blood to vital organs such as heart and brain.

Putting it into Practice – Build Your Resilience Toolbox

And, how do we become resilient to cope with long-term stress and protect our health? Pick one tool from each of the five categories and cultivate them to build your own toolbox of resilience.

1. Interpersonal or Social resources:

  • Social connectedness
  • High quality close relationships

2. World view or Cultural beliefs /values:

  • Purpose in life
  • Benevolence (eg. volunteering)
  • Spirituality

3. Behavioral and Cognitive Skills:

  • Relaxation skills e.g. mindfulness, meditation
  • Active or proactive coping skills/style eg. problem solving, planning, approach coping
  • Cognitive reappraisal or reframing ability ‘positive coping’
  • Social skills e.g. communication, seeking help
  • Emotion regulation or management skills e.g. emotional approach to coping skills

4. Self-related resources:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-efficacy
  • Personal agency

5. Personality resources:

  • Positive emotional resources (eg. sense of humor)
  • Compassion
  • Goal-oriented disposition
  • Hardiness: Commitment, Control, Challenge

Please look out for our new employee wellness program’s features on resilience and coping skills to manage stress. Stay tuned.