The Physiology of Holiday Stress – November 2011

Tim ZimmerClub Newsletter


By Ellen Sims, ND Student Intern at the Tummy Temple

The Holidays are upon us. Does that make your heart skip a beat? Do you feel that you need to take a deep breathe? The holidays can be quite stressful for many. With all the family, expectations, house cleaning, cooking, wanting everything to be perfect, and having company, who wouldn’t want to be sick? After all this is over, adrenaline and stress decreases, exhaustion sets in, and the dreaded cold or other illness rears its ugly head.

Want to increase your chance to be illness-free this holiday season? Studies show that anger, anxiety, and stress can decrease the immune system drastically, causing an increase chance for illness. Laughter and happiness, on the other hand, can increase our vital force and keep those pesky bacteria and viruses from invading.

It is no wonder that anger, anxiety, and stress take a toll on our bodies. The negativity sends out a wavelength that spreads into our whole being and can cause illness and disease. There are many psychological and physiological changes that occur in the body in response to these feelings.

You see, we have these little guys living in our bodies called cytokines that have many different jobs. They act much like hormones. Mostly, they respond to bodily changes by sending out appropriate signals to the right guys to do the job that the body needs. A few cytokines, IFN-γ, IL-2, and TNF-β, are considered to be pro-inflammatory. Therefore, they respond to stresses on the body by sending out signals to the guys that create inflammatory reactions. Inflammation is a necessity for protection, but when that gets out of control, it can lead to more serious autoimmune illness such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is about balance, much like everything else in life. You know the proverbial saying, “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.”


Unfortunately, or fortunately, these guys are also stimulated by other stressors such as anger, anxiety, and general stress, These little guys are our defenses against bacteria and viruses but if they are not able to be at full strength, then we can get invaded. If you think about it, anger, anxiety, and stress are similar to inflammation in that they are red, swollen, and hot, much like an agitated state.

I like to think about it like this: Our body is a battlefield and the army general gets false information that help is needed, so the general sends out the troops to parts of the body. Then a “real” call comes in that there is an invasion from a bacteria and/or virus. The general only has a few soldiers left at the base and the numbers just won’t kill the virus. The virus invades the first line of defense and the body ends up in battle; hence the illness.

On the opposite spectrum, when we send out love and are happy, our body responds by growing in protective measures where we feel strong like we can conquer the world. And, I’m sure you remember the story of Patch Adams!


At this point you may be thinking, “Okay, that sounds great and all, but HOW do I reduce the stress and anxiety?” I have a tip, actually, I have a few, but here is one to get you started. Read on….

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. I love that there is a day to increase awareness on thanks and blessings, but why not have thanksgiving every day? There is an exercise that has proven to be profound. Each day before going to bed, write down all the things that were good about the day, made you happy, what you are thankful for, and/or ways you feel blessed. Then go to sleep. This positivity will start to infiltrate your mind and body, and change your everyday outlook on life. Yet, to reduce the anxiety in the moment of anger or stress, take a deep breath and pray. This will start to set your mind into your heart and ease the tension. You may be surprised what transcends from these simple tasks.

This holiday season make an effort to keep yourself healthy by resting, loving others, loving yourself, and being happy. Enjoy life. Start by treating yourself to relaxation and love at the Tummy Temple. Blessed be.


Ellen Simms, Prized Naturopathic Doctor Intern at the Tummy Temple

** If you would like to read the scientific medical journals that support this data go to:

  • Negative affective responses to a speech task predict changes in interleukin (IL)-6  Original Research Article
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 25, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 232-238
Judith E. Carroll, Carissa A. Low, Aric A. Prather, Sheldon Cohen, Jacqueline M. Fury, Diana C. Ross, Anna L. Marsland.
  • Functional Anatomy of Humor: Positive Affect and Chronic Mental Illness