During the COVID-19 crisis, there are many things we can do, that are in our control, that can help to boost our immune system and improve overall well being. Reducing our stress is at the top of the list.
While stress is just a part of life for most of us, when it is chronic, it can take a toll on the immune system. Chronic stress can negatively alter immune system responses, making you more likely to get sick.
Clinical immunologist Leonard Calabrese says that “Eliminating or modifying these factors in one’s life is vital to protect and augment the immune response.” Stress causes your body to produce greater levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In short bursts, cortisol can boost immunity by limiting inflammation. But over time, the body can get used to having too much cortisol in your blood, and this opens the door for more inflammation, Dr. Calabrese says. (1)
In addition, stress decreases the body’s white blood cells, the lymphocytes that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses, including the common cold and other viruses.
High stress levels also can cause depression and anxiety, which can also lead to higher levels of inflammation. In the long-term, sustained high levels of inflammation point to an overworked, over-tired immune system that can’t properly protect you.
Reducing stress can improve your overall health, especially during the Covid crisis. Try a few of these mindfulness and stress management techniques to help support your immune system.
1) Avoid Information Overload
It can feel necessary and urgent to stay plugged into the various media outlets, but doing so can take a toll on our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight part of the autonomic nervous system). Often we don't realize how our body is internalizing and reacting to this constant barrage of stressful information.
Tip—set appropriate boundaries for researching Coronavirus by limiting yourself to 30 minutes per day
2) Practice Gratitude
The act of recognizing and expressing gratitude has been linked to decreased stress levels, lowered blood pressure, better sleep quality, stronger immune systems, and increased feelings of joy, happiness, forgiveness, and compassion.
In times of uncertainty and worry, negative thoughts can dominate. Practicing gratitude can help your mind remember the positive elements of your life and, if your gratitude is shared, may have a ripple effect of increased positivity.
Tip—write an email, text, or letter to someone who has had a positive impact on your life. You can also try a gratitude journal - keep a running list of things you are grateful for on a daily basis
3) Try Meditating
Now more than ever, it is very important to engage in restorative activities. Meditation improves state of mind, physical well-being, quality of life, and self-awareness. For patients with chronic disease, meditation has especially powerful effects. Remaining present and observant under challenging situations can improve the stress response. Strengthening your meditative abilities can also reduce the negative physical effects of stress. Often the barrier to meditation is ‘finding the time’. Yet meditation actually improves productivity and mood while promoting health. Even in small doses, meditation changes brainwaves and improves resilience. Use this time as an opportunity to establish a meditation routine.
Tip—there are many free videos and apps for mindfulness meditation; experiment to find what works for you
4) Practice Mindful Breathing
Being conscious and breathing in a particular way can lead to deep relaxation, decreased pain, and improved mental state. Abdominal breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, changes the oxygenation levels in your body as well as strengthens the diaphragm. It also stimulates the relaxation response or the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Many people feel calmer and more centered afterwards, and it may help to reduce negative emotions. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere, for free, and has been associated with a host of positive physical benefits.
To get started sit or lie down comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor.
Feel free to gently close your eyes.
Put one hand on your upper chest, and the other on your abdomen, just under your ribcage.
Feel yourself breathing and become aware of how deeply or shallowly you are breathing.
Take a deep breath, feeling your abdomen rise as you breathe.
Your upper hand should move very little, while your abdomen lifts your other hand.
Imagine a feeling of warmth as the breath moves from your mouth, down your throat, into your lungs, and your diaphragm expands.
Hold the breath for a count of four.
Exhale slowly through your nose for a count of four.
Inhale slowly to a count of four, feeling the warmth of your breath and your abdomen rising.
Try to keep your chest relatively still. Hold the breath for four, then exhale slowly, and repeat.
Notice. Consider how your body feels different from before practicing conscious breathing.
Are your shoulders more relaxed? Do your thoughts feel any different?
Five minutes is a good amount of time to affect your physiology, decrease anxiety, and improve mental state. However, even one or two abdominal breaths can be helpful! Although best learned sitting or lying down, any time you can consciously breathe is an opportunity to de-stress.
5) Celebrate Good Habits
When you are able to make positive change in your daily habits, take a moment to appreciate yourself. Whether that’s eating a new vegetable every day, adding a D vitamin to your routine, or any other positive step you have incorporated into your day, take a moment to be positive.
Tip - Check out a list of out favorite FREE meditation and mental wellness apps here.
There is a lot to feel overwhelmed by right now. Don't let this list of suggestions add to that feeling. Pick one or two things that might resonate for you, and give them a try. Notice what effect they have on you, your mood and your sense of well being. Be kind to yourself and don't worry if you can't accomplish everything that you want to right now.
At Mymee, we know first hand what it is like to have an autoimmune disorder. If you are struggling with questions and uncertainty related to COVID-19, we are here for you. Through the month of April, we are opening up our coaches for free sessions to help you create a personalized plan of action - or even just to offer support. To schedule your free session, sign up here.
This is part one in our COVID-19 and Autoimmunity Series. Continue reading the rest of our series here: