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Thursday, October 28, 2021

2020’s constant cycle of stress has weakened our bodies

Social media and partisan politics have sent our immune systems spiraling

As humans, we endure many stressful life events. Although it’s nothing close to the stress our ancestors experienced—the occasional run-in with a dangerous animal while scavenging for food—we do have our own versions of stressful events that can seem inescapable. 

Stress is not a temporary mood that comes and goes from one deadline to the next. Rather, its intensity and persistence negatively impact our body. There’s a long and complex list of bodily changes we experience when we are stressed, but the most relevant are the changes to our immune system. In simple terms, constant stress leads to a suppressed immune system—making it easier for us to get sick. 

Since 2020 began, we have been in a constant cycle of stress. With the pandemic, we have faced months of uncertainty and bad news. We also abided by the stay-at-home orders and witnessed devastating fires in Australia, the arrival of murder hornets, the Beirut explosion, a stock market crash and many other stress-inducing events—all of which contributed to the rise in COVID-19 cases as the year has progressed. 

Unsurprisingly, the 2020 election has shown no mercy on our already stressful lives. At a time when we need to be united, it feels like we are more divided than ever. The two-party system of our democracy has divided families, friends and co-workers. We find ourselves constantly monitoring the media and people around us, quick to cut ties with the people and organizations that don’t have the same views. Regardless of who you support, we are all struggling to find neutral ground. 

At the end of an election cycle, the stress and polarization we feel typically lessens after election day passes and the results have been finalized. Whether our candidate wins or loses, we accept the outcome and go on with our lives. This year, however, is not a typical election year. Rather than having conclusive results on Nov. 3, we seemed to be living in a Groundhog Day scenario where each day, for almost a week, was election day. With no end in sight, of the pandemic or the election, our immune systems suffered from our heightened state of anxiety. 

Luckily, we are not completely doomed. As humans we are resilient and have the ability to use coping strategies that can help us through hard times—it’s time we take advantage of them. Taking a break from social media and the news is a good start. The technology we have today contributes to our perpetual consumption of stressful news, and, although it’s good to stay up-to-date, it’s not good to continually expose ourselves to negativity. 

Similarly, we could also use a break from hard conversations. This doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your ideals. Rather you should filter who you spend your time with and the conversations you engage in. When we have the chance, we should put ourselves in spaces that are calm and nonconfrontational—even if that means being alone. 

Unfortunately, as humans we seem to be addicted to social media and conflict—making it hard for us to take a break from the things that cause us the most problems. In this case, taking a walk, reading a book, indulging in comfort food or spending time with our nonpartisan pets may be easier stress-reducing strategies. Overall, the idea is to take care of yourself and to make sure you don’t let the chaos that is 2020 get the best of you—or your immunity. 

Written by: Kacey Cain –– klcain@ucdavis.edu 
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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