Updated: May 21, 2020
We are living in a stressful time, many of us in a constant state of heightened anxiety, emotion, fear, and uncertainty. Living in that constant state wreaks havoc on our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to every virus, bacteria, and illness within reach. The media is telling us a lot of things right now, but has failed to mention how to take care of ourselves and support our health during this time.
We are all dealing with the effects of Covid, quarantine, lock-down. Some of us are out of work, some are working from home, and some are working even more than before quarantine. Some have the added job of helping your kids meet their school demands online, while also trying to nurture their souls, provide entertainment, attention, and every other need in the midst of helping them make sense of what is going on around them. We are socially isolated and that has major effects on every aspect of our health. Some of us live in states that are beginning to open up. This anticipation can create another layer of anxiety. The weight of the world is heavy. How are you caring for yourself? How are you processing your emotions? How are you caring for your body so you can fight infection?
You may feel like punching today in the face, as I often do. To some, that is motivating, others, just an acknowledgement of the uncertainty, stress, and hardships.
10 Simple Steps to Supporting your Immune System
How do we start moving towards supporting our overall health and immune system? What we put into our bodies is an important first step. Proper nutrition with a focus on consuming whole foods over processed foods is key to maintaining and supporting a healthy immune system. A whole food is anything that comes from a mother or the ground. Here are some simple steps to help you start making small changes.
1. Acknowledge emotional eating.
Emotional eating is a common response to stress and many of us have increased our emotional eating during this time. Acknowledge it, give yourself grace, and move forward. Are you hungry or are you eating in response to an emotion? Is it both? Dig deeper into why you are eating instead of dealing with emotions. What do you need to be able to process through your emotions right now? What are some small self-care practices you can do instead? The important thing to note here is to give yourself grace and process your emotions.
2. Reduce your sugar intake.
Sugar is a known suppressor of our immune system. Unfortunately, sugar and its sweeteners counterpart is in almost every processed food item we buy. It's a sneaky, hidden ingredient that keeps us hungry for more.
Common items containing added sugars are milk, coffee drinks, soda, bread, juice, sports drinks, flavored water, sauces, condiments, peanut/nut butters, jelly, yogurt, Goldfish crackers, flavored chips, and the obvious baked goods, candy, ice cream, and treats. Even items labeled "natural" and organic have added sugar.
Start small if reducing your sugar intake seems overwhelming. Read ingredient labels and opt for something with less sugar or no sugar. Example: Jiff Natural Creamy Peanut Butter has sugar listed in the ingredients. You may have to head to the opposite side of the grocery store in the Natural/Organic section to find one without. Trader Joe's has an affordable peanut butter that contains just peanuts.
Another simple swap for those sugar cravings: eat fruit to give your body the natural sugar it is craving.
3. Reduce consumption of alcohol.
Alcohol is also loaded with sugar. Alcohol consumption is correlated with increased anxiety. Both of those things affect our immune response. How often during the week are you drinking? Is this different than pre-Covid? How is your alcohol intake affecting you and others around you? What changes can you make? Instead of having a drink every day of the week, reduce it to 5 or less and notice the difference.
4. Reduce consumption of processed and fast foods.
Unfortunately, most of the items in our grocery stores are processed. They are also oh so convenient, which is what we are drawn to in our fast paced culture. Fast foods are readily available and loaded with unhealthy, inflammatory ingredients that interfere with our health. In times of stress, we are drawn to these fast, convenient, junk foods because they immediately satisfy an emotional need. The amount of processed and fast foods we eat greatly impacts our health. I like to stick to an 80/20% ratio of processed foods during the day as it helps me rely on whole foods to fuel and nourish my body.
Easy swaps: Instead of cereal, try yogurt (full fat, no added sugars/flavors) with fruit and granola. If you tolerate eggs, eggs (especially the yokes!) are a perfect protein packed way to start your day. Taco night? Swap out the tortillas for rice or potatoes and make a taco bowl or salad.
5. Drink water!
Our bodies need water. It's recommended that we drink at least half of our body weight in ounces (if you weigh 140lbs, your body wants at least 70oz of water per day). Keeping hydrated is important for every aspect of health. It also helps us flush out toxins which in turn helps us fight infection.
Our bodies work to restore itself while we sleep. We need good sleep in order to keep our immune system functioning properly. Stress greatly impacts sleep, which in turns impacts our immune system and overall health. How is your sleep? Are you getting 7-8 hours of restful sleep? Do you wake up tired or rejuvenated? What is your bedtime routine? How does your bedtime routine affect your sleep and your energy level the next day? What changes do you need to make in order to get enough restful sleep?
Two simple tasks:
1. Pick a bedtime. Yes, adults, we need a consistent bedtime as much as your kids.
2. An hour before your desired bedtime, turn off all electronics, including your phone (or just don't look at it until morning).
Our bodies need movement to keep us healthy and decrease our stress load. What is your daily activity level? How are you moving your body during the day? How do you feel about your activity level/movement? What do you need in order to start making movement/activity part of your daily life?
Simple task: Block off a 15 minute time period for something active. This can be vacuuming/cleaning your floors, putting laundry away, any household chores, going for a walk, jumping on a trampoline, playing tag with your kids, riding your bike, walking while your kid rides a bike, etc. What is one thing that will get you moving today?
8. Get Outside!
Our bodies thrive on fresh air and sun (Vitamin D). Studies are showing that vitamin D levels greatly impact one's recovery from Covid-19.
Is the sun out? Get outside! Sit in the sun for at least 15 minutes. Breathe in that fresh air. It's cloudy? That's okay! Wear layers, sit outside, breathe, relax, observe your surroundings. Outside and nature does wonders for every aspect of our health.
It is important to practice self-care habits so that we can be refreshed, renewed, and present for others. This helps increase our ability to deal with stress in a healthy manner, serve/care for others well, and prevent burnout.
How are you caring for yourself? How can you nurture your soul and take care of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health? How can you implement one way to care for yourself today?
We are wired for connection. Social isolation has not been good for us. Who can you connect with today that will give life to both your souls?