Tips from an integrative physician
Let’s admit it. Most of us were already pretty stressed before the coronavirus outbreak. Now many people are feeling distress. Distress differs from stress in that it means we have exceeded our ability to cope with the stressors present in our life at that given time. Stress itself is unavoidable but distress can be managed. Learning strategies to reduce the risk of contracting this (or any other) virus is empowering. Taking steps to boost your immune system now diminishes the feeling of helplessness. Read on for some suggestions.
Get outside as much as possible and get some sunshine. Fresh air has been shown to have antimicrobial benefits. Sunshine boosts Vitamin D levels - a critical hormone for your immune system. While you are at it, make direct contact between the earth and your feet (grounding). Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (at least 20 seconds). Get in between your fingers. Wash with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom, and before and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands before and after caring for a sick friend or a family member.
Connect with family and friends over video platforms (Skype, FaceTime, Google hang out, etc.). Cheer each other on in these challenging times.
Clean your phone. You are constantly touching it throughout the day. Your kids may be grabbing it. Learn some good ways to sanitize your phone here.
Sanitize hands right before eating Avoid touching your face - especially nose, mouth and eyes Sanitize objects frequently touched like doorknobs and countertops.
Hydrate focusing on water and minimizing dehydrating beverages like coffee and alcohol. Avoid alcohol if it all possible as it has negative affects on the immune system. Alcohol inhibits a number of cells important for immunity as well as disrupting the gut barrier which facilitates leakage of microbes into the circulation. Alcohol consumption may also increase your risk of pulmonary problems and lung function is critically important for minimizing the impacts of COVID-19 and other infections.
Use neuroplasticity to your advantage. “What fires together wires together.“ Everything we think about, wires the brain more strongly in that direction. The more we focus on something - like fear - the stronger it becomes. It may be very beneficial to avoid or minimize watching the news, for example. Stay informed by reading credible sources that provide up to date information rather than watching the sensationalism presented by much of the media. The CDC COVID-19 Website is robust with resources, updates and action steps we can all take.
Be solution focused. Practice bringing your system back into a relaxed state as soon as possible after feeling fear creeping in. Your immune system will thank you as stress weakens our immunity! Practice makes proficient! Take deep breaths and hold for 5-10 seconds if you can. Taking a brief pause at the end of each exhalation can increase parasympathetic nervous system activity - the rest, digest and restore hub of the body. Engaging the relaxation response is key as this dampens down sympathetic nervous system activity ("fight, flight or freeze"). Try meditation, guided imagery, breathing exercises, or going for a walk. Distracting yourself from this crisis from time to time will lower your stress level and boost your immune system. Falling asleep requires a relaxed mind and sleep is vitally important for robust immune system functioning!
Practice self compassion and compassion for others. We will get through this together!