By James Yardley, LAc. & Mindi K. Counts, LAc.
I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything I possibly can to avoid contracting COVID. And if I do contract COVID, I want to do everything I can to make it as mild of a sickness as possible and to coax it to move out of my system quickly. Because of this, immunity is top of mind right now.
For your immune system to run at its best and reduce your vulnerability to contracting COVID, there are things you can be doing every day. Your lifestyle, diet choices, mental-emotional wellbeing, and your environment all contribute to the healthy operation of your immune system. Let’s take a closer look at some of the basic features that go into a healthy immune system:
Mental-Emotional Wellbeing Affects Our Immunity
“It’s a challenging time to be alive” is a saying that I have found myself frequently using to express all of the upheavals and uncertainties we are experiencing in our world right now. Along with the sudden, drastic changes, for many of us comes the extra burden of chronic stress, fear, anxiety, grief, and/or worry. These strong emotions, if unexpressed, can have a negative effect on your immune system.
The more stress you feel, the more stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline get released into your bloodstream. Stress hormones, because they are there to help you survive, will ALWAYS override your immune system. Prolonged, chronic stress has been shown to negatively impact immunity in many research studies, including the World Health Organization’s proclamation that nearly 80% of all disease stems from stress. In light of these dynamics, it is important to take care of ourselves both physically, as well as mentally and emotionally.
Here are some suggestions for nourishing yourself mentally and emotionally, supporting your immune system to become more resilient:
- Deep breathing practice. Just 10 minutes a day, using an exaggerated exhale to allow for deeper inhalation can directly calm your nervous system.
- Regular, gentle movement exercises, such as walking, biking, stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, dancing, etc. Physical movement for 30 minutes a day can help shake off excess stress and stress hormones.
- Your gut and brain are connected and influence one another. Avoiding extra sugar, stimulants and processed, or fast foods can help keep these in balance. You may also need to identify and eliminate food sensitivities and food intolerances from your diet. Eating a balanced, varied diet of fresh, organic foods can have a positive effect on your mood.
- Get enough sleep and go to bed before 11 pm. Being asleep between the hours of 11 pm and 3 am are of the highest importance in Chinese Medicine.
- A meditation or mindfulness practice can be a wonderful tool in combating chronic stress. If this is new territory for you, try an audio recording with a guide to help you get started.
- Being creative, using imagination, writing, playing music and other hobbies are good ways to help escape the challenges of chronic stress.
- Regularly spend time outside in nature. This can be as simple as spending 15 minutes at a park, having a picnic, or walking in nature. If possible, take a mini vacation.
In addition to the lifestyle habits above, it can also be important to supplement with the right vitamins, minerals and herbs to give yourself the extra support needed to stay healthy and to avoid getting run down. In general, we recommend as a front line of defense: Vitamins C, A, D, and Zinc. As well as a combination of Jade Windscreen Formula, garlic, elderberry, osha, and reishi. If you are a client of ours, we can prescribe a more personal combination of herbs and supplements to support you. Work with your health care practitioner to determine the right supplements and dosages for you.
Acupuncture and other adjunctive therapies such as moxibustion, cupping, and gua sha, can increase immunity and resilience also. With the therapeutic benefits of reducing stress and inflammation, as well as increasing endorphins and immunity, this could be the perfect time to get in to see your Chinese medicine practitioner or acupuncturist.
How to know if your immune system is out of balance or may not be working properly?
- Do you get seasonal allergies or frequent colds or flus (more than 1-2 times per year)? This is a sign that your immune system is not working at its best and should be investigated.
- Do you have a history of antibiotic use in the last 12 months? Antibiotics, though life saving agents, are not very selective in the bacteria that they kill. They often leave your healthy gut flora and your immune system compromised. Because your gut flora plays a major role within your immune system and overall health, you should work to restore its function with probiotics and fermented foods after a course of antibiotics.
- Not sleeping well. for your body to restore, recover, and keep balanced. When you don’t sleep well, your immune system often suffers.
- Having a stressful lifestyle, lacking positive relationships, feeling stuck in a negative mental state. These feelings may have an effect on your immune system’s health.
- Cravings for extra sugar and sweets. This may be a sign that your gut bacteria are out of balance and may lead to an overly acidic environment in your body, which can be an extra challenge to your immune system.
- Low Vitamin D levels. This vitamin is actually a hormone and is commonly found low when tested. It is essential for your immune system to work well. You can talk with your health care practitioner to find out if you need a vitamin D test.
Keeping yourself feeling balanced and healthy can be difficult in these uncertain times. If you feel like you may need extra support, please reach out to us. We have in-office and virtual availability to accommodate your needs that can be scheduled, here.