UNCATEGORIZED How to boost your immune system and lower stress levels amidst the threat of the coronavirus

 

Written by Laura Parr

As the novel coronavirus reaches pandemic proportions, one of the most important things you can do for your health is to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Experts are scrambling to learn about the disease itself and as they do, we can be thankful that the approaches for staying healthy are tried and tested.

Reduce your stress levels

High levels of stress have been shown to weaken your immune system [1]. It may be easier said than done but keeping your stress levels down may reduce your chances of getting ill. Yoga, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness have all been proven effective in lowering stress levels [2,3,4].

While now may not be the time to start a new class, there are plenty of classes available on the internet, and you can even download apps on your phone to help you learn various techniques. Focusing on your breath is a simple way of cultivating mindfulness. It may be simple but it’s not exactly easy, so don’t beat yourself up when your mind begins to wander. Trying not to judge, gently bring back your awareness to your breath and notice the sensations in your body.

Get outdoors

Spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure [5]. It’s also been linked to mood elevation, feelings of wellbeing, and perhaps even disease prevention [6]. We all love to be outside, so give yourself the time to do so now. Take a walk in the woods, ride a bike through the park, or get out in the garden.

It doesn’t really matter what you do or where you go. They key here is to get some fresh air and surround yourself with trees and plants. Don’t let the weather bother you. If it’s cold outside or pouring with rain, don a warm coat or a pair of wellies and head for the hills.

Follow a healthy diet

Getting plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a sure-fire way of staying strong and healthy. Studies have shown that a diet rich in vitamin C helps prevent against the damage caused by stress on the body [7]. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, green, leafy vegetables, and even in potatoes.

Don’t worry too much about getting the right amounts of each vitamin, though. Fill your plate high with fresh, whole foods and you’ll probably be getting a good enough intake. Ginger and lemon make an excellent immune-boosting tonic, while beetroot is one of the best vegetables you can consume. Cut down on carbonated drinks, caffeine, processed sugar, and ready meals, and instead treat yourself well to some good, old-fashioned home cooking.

Get plenty of vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for your immune system. Your body converts it from the sun, but it’s also found in egg yolks, some fish, and fortified cereals and milks. Spending a little time every day in the sunshine may be difficult at this time of year, so if you aren’t getting it from your diet and you think you may be deficient, consider taking a daily supplement.

Exercise

When stress-induced cortisol and adrenaline build up in the body they can cause inflammation and put you at risk of getting ill. The good news is that exercise helps combat this. Regular aerobic exercise not only strengthens your heart; it wards off depression and alleviates stress too [8]. In these times of social distancing, you may not want to join a gym. However, you have plenty of other options. Go for a brisk walk, give running a try, dance around your living room, or put on an aerobics class on YouTube.

Sleep well

The importance of sleep has been well documented, and in times of stress it’s doubly important that you give yourself plenty of time to rest. Adults need between seven and nine hours per night for optimal functioning, while children generally need more. If you have trouble sleeping, reducing your stress levels can help, as can drinking chamomile tea before bed. But if you still find your mind whirring, the European Guideline for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Insomnia suggests cognitive behavioural therapy as first-line treatment [9].

Acceptance

Strange as it may seem, acceptance has been shown to lower stress reactivity [10]. There is absolutely nothing you can do about the coronavirus so if you find yourself trying to control it, stop. The moment you let go of your attachment to control is the moment your body and mind will release their tension.

Acceptance takes practice. Start by acknowledging the situation and observing how it makes you feel. Tell yourself (as often as necessary) ‘I cannot do anything to change the situation’. Be warned, however: acceptance is not about ignoring the facts or being passive. The most important thing about acceptance is honesty. So start to recognise what is happening in the world and learn to determine what is within your power to do and what isn’t.

Quit smoking and avoid smoky places

Smoking increases your risk of suffering an array of health conditions. The coronavirus is a respiratory disease that can cause breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, and severe acute respiratory syndrome or even death. It stands to reason that putting an unnecessary strain on your lungs will put you at a higher risk of suffering complications should you contact the virus.

References

  1. Stress weakens the immune system
  2. Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis
  3. Stress management
  4. Common and Dissociable Neural Activity After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response Programs
  5. Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments
  6. Health and well-being benefits of spending time in forests: systematic revie
  7. Ascorbate is an outstanding antioxidant in human blood plasma
  8. Exercising to relax
  9. European Guideline for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Insomnia
  10. Acceptance lowers stress reactivity: Dismantling mindfulness training in a randomized controlled trial

About the Author

Laura Parr is a writer, proofreader, and editor with a background in nursing. She did her postgraduate certificate in public health at the University of Manchester. She is also a yoga teacher and therapist and her real passion is combining intellectual and intuitive knowledge and using it to help herself and others. In 2013 she moved to Portugal with her husband to focus on growing vegetables and living a more natural life.

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