Stress triggers or aggravates a variety of health concerns, including infections. Herpes virus is particularly associated with stress, and studies have shown that stress levels and their duration can also predict the recurrence of herpes outbreaks.
Herpes simplex is causes by two types of virus, type 1 (HSV-1) or oral herpes and type 2 (HSV-2) or genital herpes. Unlike other infections, this virus, once acquired, will remain in the body for the rest of the person’s life. Between herpes outbreaks it stays in a latent form in the nerve roots. Besides stress, other factors such as sun exposure, menstrual periods, surgeries and skin-to-skin contact can trigger a new episode of active lesions.
In order to better assess the connection between stress and herpes outbreaks, researchers evaluated genital herpes in women age 20-44 with one to ten years history of visible genital herpes with at least one outbreak in the last six months. This study, published in 1999 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, indicates that the greater a person’s stress, the more likely it is that they will suffer a herpes outbreak. Short term stressors reported by the subjects included flying on an airplane, being a victim of vandalism, and breaking a leg. Long term stressors included being worried about relatives, job security, or finances. This study correlates herpes outbreaks with long term and persistent stress. Thus, the scientists concluded that herpes management should include not only antiviral medications but referral to counseling as well.
Another study, published in 2008 in “Stress and Health” found that those suffering from frequent reactivation of HSV-1 also appear to be more vulnerable to the effects of stress on the immune system and high levels of stress were associated with subsequent reactivation of HSV-1. This study involved both men and women, and the average age was 25, all the participants being university students.
Sleep is more important that most people realize. Lack of sleep interferes with the ability to cope with stress and function normally. The average adult needs an average of eight hours of sleep, although this need may vary from one person to another.
A balanced diet can also have an impact on stress levels. Enough fresh fruits and vegetables supply the body with B vitamins that have anti-stress qualities and other nutrients that keep the mind and body strong. Avoid coffee, alcohol, sugar, and fatty foods.
Exercise helps increase the levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain which help people cope better with stress. Both diet and exercise also help boost the immune system and thus decrease the likelihood of a herpes outbreak.
Relaxations techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and tai chi are great methods for relief stress and improved mood.
Don’t spend too much time alone. When feeling stressed, it is better to go out and socialize, or spend time with family, rather than dwelling on the stressors. It is also good idea to seek professional help and counseling to earn different techniques for coping better with stress.