When allergies or inflammation strikes, you may be quick to blame some common culprits like pollen and ragweed, pets, pollution, or food. But what you may not know is that one of the biggest causes of allergy and inflammation is actually your mind.
How you feel and the amount of stress you experience—from work, to family, to your health—can have a direct impact on how your body feels. Researchers1 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that stress is a major factor in causing chronic inflammatory conditions but that stress reduction interventions can actually help reduce symptoms.
The combination of stress and allergies creates a snowball effect.
Ohio State University scientists found that the persistence of mental stress can increase the frequency of flare-ups in allergy sufferers. And more episodes of sneezing, running nose, and watery eyes can lead to more stress and worsening symptoms. Conversely, less stress is associated with fewer flare-ups. They also found1 that stress and mood could affect allergic sensitivity. Nasal allergy sufferers who were asked to perform mental arithmetic in front of an audience experience bigger hives in response to a skin test. Participants who weren't given the math questions didn't have the same allergic response.
But the good news is that your mind can outshine your allergies. These seven simple tips can help you reduce stress, calm your body, and kick pesky allergies.
1. Give meditation a try.
While meditation has been touted as the answer to everything from pain relief to improving your athletic performance, it really can help reduce your body's response to allergy and inflammation. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found1 that mindfulness-based stress reduction—which combines mindfulness, yoga, and body awareness—not only helped participants cope with stress, but it also decreased inflammation in the body compared to other healthy practices like exercise and music therapy.
In another study on people with migraine headaches and abdominal pain, scientists from Case Western Reserve University found2 that meditation and visualization reduced pain and signs of allergic inflammation. Meditation with visualization has also been shown3 to improve lung function and respiratory symptoms in groups of people with asthma. Try this simple meditation:
- Sit in a comfortable place.
- Imagine a hand resting on your forehead, giving your mind comfort and soothing your thoughts.
- Let any stressful thoughts float out of your mind and into the imaginary hand.
- Notice the sense of spaciousness and calm without those extra thoughts.
2. Make sleep a top priority.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, those who experience chronic stress report shorter sleep duration and lower quality of sleep. A group of Italian researchers found4 that the lack of adequate shut-eye can also lead to increased oxidative stress and altered inflammatory response—among other health concerns.
Sleep is one of the best ways to heal and rejuvenate your body. To get the best sleep, be sure to avoid caffeine late in the day and create a calming bedtime ritual. And don't forget to turn off your screens! Exposure to blue light can suppress the release of melatonin, your body's sleep-facilitating hormone, and shift your circadian clock.
3. Take an Epsom salt bath
A warm bath is super relaxing, but it can also help your body recharge. Stress can reduce levels of magnesium in the body, and Epsom salts—which are composed of magnesium sulfate—can help replenish these stores. Researchers from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom found that soaking in an Epsom salt bath for 12 minutes a day for a week raised magnesium levels measurably.
4. Get outside and clear your head.
Sometimes just getting out in nature is all we need to banish stress. In fact, researchers from Stanford observed that those who took a stroll in a parklike setting had meaningful improvements in mental health including less brooding compared to those who walked in an urban setting. Scientists from Finland found that even a brief visit to a green space can reduce stress levels.
5. Journal to reduce the impact of stressors.
Who hasn't scribbled in a journal after a stressful, emotional, or traumatic event? And there's good reason. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin observed5 that writing about stressful events can reduce the impact of those stressors; it helped lessen the intensity of the feelings and lowered symptoms of depression. Even more interesting, researcher from the United Kingdom shows6 that expressive writing improves lung function in asthma sufferers.
6. Hang out with friends.
Instead of staring at your phone or computer screen, hang out with your friends. Social connection can be a strong buffer against the effects of stress. A study7 from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California found that participating in a meditation group not only decreased feelings of loneliness, but it decreased systematic inflammation in the body by decreasing the activity of a gene that promotes inflammation in the body.
7. Dance your allergies away.
Yes, dance! Researchers have discovered8 that dance therapy can benefit those with high blood pressure, depression, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. Music influences mood in a positive way, and, more importantly, relaxing music may reduce levels of cortisol—the main stress hormone in the body.
The bottom line is that allergies and inflammation involve a lot more than just our environment and what we put in and on our bodies. They are also directly connected with what's going on in our mind. For more information about ways to reduce stress and combat allergies, check out my book The Allergy Solution: Unlock the Surprising, Hidden Truth About Why You Are Sick and How to Get Well.
Leo Galland, M.D. is an author, respected scholar, and physician working in integrative medicine and functional nutrition. He received his education at Harvard University and New York University School of Medicine, and is listed in Leading Physicians of the World and America’s Top Doctors. Galland has authored five popular books and several dozen scientific articles and textbook chapters. A board-certified internist, he is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Nutrition, and Director of The Foundation for Integrated Medicine, a nonprofit educational organization committed to integrating nutritional therapies into clinical practice. Galland received the Linus Pauling Award from the Institute of Functional Medicine for creating basic principles of Functional Medicine, and the Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to healthcare from Marquis Who’s Who.