Managing autoimmune flares during stress and grief

I expect we have all had times in our lives when we have experienced stress and grief. Whether it be putting up with a bullying boss at work, having family issues, losing a loved one, or moving to a new city or country, these are all heavy burdens on your body. I have experienced them all. 


In times of stress and grief, your body often responds with heightened sensitivity and vulnerability. For those living with autoimmune diseases, like me, this can be particularly challenging, as stress and emotional turmoil can trigger or worsen autoimmune flares. 

As a nutritionist and expert in autoimmune disease, I am here to provide you with practical advice on how to navigate these difficult times and minimise the impact of stress and grief on your symptoms and autoimmune condition.

The connection between stress and autoimmune flares

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues in the body. There are more than 80 recognised autoimmune diseases, including alopecia areata, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and coeliac disease, among others. These conditions can cause a wide range of symptoms, making management crucial for maintaining a good quality of life.

Stress is a common trigger for autoimmune flares. When you experience stress, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which can exacerbate inflammation over time and weaken the immune system's ability to regulate itself. This creates an environment where autoimmune diseases can flare up or worsen.

Lifestyle factors to manage stress and grief

It isn’t easy to manage your own health when you are going through a difficult time, but adopting some simple daily habits during challenging times can really make a difference in how your body responds to stress. 

Prioritise self-care

To reduce stress, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Get adequate sleep to support your body's healing processes. Sleep habits often change during stress and grief, so resting is also helpful if you find sleep challenging. 
Maintain a regular exercise routine, as physical activity can help reduce stress and improve mood. However, as your body may already be overburdened with stress or grief, try not to overdo it. 

Seek emotional support

Talk to a therapist or counsellor to help you process and cope with grief and stress.
Reach out to friends and family members for emotional support and understanding. Connectivity with loved ones is one of the best therapies to aid you during difficult times. 

Manage your time

Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps to reduce the stress of overwhelming to-do lists. Delegate tasks when possible to lighten your load.

Nutrition strategies for flare management

Nutrition is essential when managing autoimmune flares, and it is easy to get off track when life doesn’t go in the direction you were expecting. The first thing is not to not put too much pressure on yourself but instead, when you can, focus on nourishing food that is going to support you in this time of need.

Focus on whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Include foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, and nuts. And omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseeds can help reduce inflammation.

Many food service companies now deliver whole foods and recipes to your door, so if you are short of time or don’t have the headspace to prepare something yourself, it might be worth investing in some help while you manage your situation. 

It is also vital to reduce processed foods, sugary snacks, and excessive caffeine, as these can worsen your tolerance to stress. If you have any known food sensitivities, avoid these foods as much as you can, as your body is more likely to have a heightened response to such foods during times of stress and grief. 

You may also consider extra supplementation during this time, as nutrients are quickly depleted when your stress levels are on overdrive or if you are processing the loss of a loved one. As with any supplements, it is best to consult a nutritionist, like me, or a health practitioner to advise you on which supplements might be best for you. Still, magnesium, vitamins C and D, holy basil, Rhodiola rosea and theanine have been linked to reducing stress symptoms. 

Managing autoimmune flares during times of stress and grief requires a holistic approach that addresses both emotional well-being and nutrition. As a nutritionist specialising in autoimmune diseases and someone who has recently lost a loved one, I encourage you to prioritise self-care, seek emotional support, and adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. 

Some resources I found helpful for grief are Loss by Donna Ashworth, Signs by Laura Lynne Jackson and the Good Morning Grief podcast. 

If you would like more advice on managing autoimmune flares, you can download my free guide, The Autoimmune Reset. 

If you would like to book a free initial consultation with me so that I can help you manage autoimmune flares and live symptom-free, you can book a call with me via my profile. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

VJ Hamilton is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and member of BANT, focusing on autoimmunity including inflammatory skin disorders, fatigue & neurological issues as well as gut health. VJ has a BSc in Biochemistry and Immunology which she uses in her practice, using only evidence-based nutritional therapies to support chronic conditions.

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