If you’re like most people, you’ve read a lot of tips on avoiding COVID-19. You likely know the basics: Wash your hands; keep a safe distance from others; avoid travel and quarantine yourself if you have traveled, and don’t go out at all if you experience any symptoms.
Staying Healthy Starts On the Inside
However, it’s also important to acknowledge that staying healthy starts on the inside. The defense system we all need to take care of in these crazy times is our immune system.
Yet here’s the irony: When we are stressed, our immunity becomes weaker. And right now, we’re all stressed about sickness among other things. Just when we all need a strong immune system, chronic stress has the potential to weaken our defenses.
How Stress Affects the Immune System
Why does stress weaken immunity? The process makes perfect sense if you think of how we lived for most of human history.
Not too long ago, if we perceived a threat, such as a predatory animal in the wild, we had to respond – and quickly! In that sense, our body is primed to protect us.
Fight or Flight
Let’s take a look at the “flight or fight” response and how stress changes us on a physiological level.
- Blood pressure goes up.
- Heart rate goes up.
- Serotonin levels drop because you need to stay awake.
- Insulin sensitivity is impaired.
- Digestion slows down to preserve energy.
- Cholesterol goes up.
- The body pumps stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.
All of these changes are designed to make sure that you have enough energy in the right places – i.e. the arms and legs – to respond to stress appropriately – i.e. fight or run.
That’s because your body wants to put all of its resources into dealing with the immediate threat. This response is actually very helpful – if you need to escape a predator. However, in today’s world, stress is typically more chronic and, let’s face it, unrelenting.
And that’s where the problems start.
Our body’s ability to respond to stress is called “adaptive physiology.” To understand this, it might help to think of your nervous system as actually two systems:
- Your sympathetic nervous system powers the Fight or Flight response that you need in the face of danger.
- Your parasympathetic nervous system is behind the “Relax and Recharge”, aka “Rest and Digest” response you need in between periods of stress. Without this response, your body’s systems would stay in overdrive.
Essentially, the way in which these two systems work together is not unlike the brakes and gas pedals in your car. One speeds you up, and the other slows you down.
Ideally, your body adapts depending on the situation. The Relax and Recharge period is essential to restoring balance in mind and body.
Putting The Breaks On Stress
Right now, many of us feel like the “gas” is always on, which is a perfectly understandable response when faced with a global crisis.
However, that kind of constant stress can lead to a long list of health problems if the sympathetic nervous system never turns off.
What happens to a car if you only touch the gas and never use the brakes? There’s a high likelihood of a crash.
Don’t Crash Your Immune System
Not surprisingly, your immune system suffers when you’re heading for a crash. All the things that happen during your flight or fight response can lower your immunity. And that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen right now.
7 Ways to Switch Your Body to a Healthy Immunity.
So, what can you do? Isn’t stress inevitable at this moment in history? A good starting point is thinking of the two states of your immune system and doing what you can to reach a state of rest and restoration.
1. Look at your mindset.
How you perceive a stressful situation will affect your body’s response to it. Perhaps you’re socially distancing and feeling trapped and restless inside your home. That’s stressful. However, consider the difference between feeling stuck at home and feeling safe at home. That simple mental shift can help your nervous system remain in a restorative mode.
Don’t forget: You always have the opportunity to change your attitude.
When we feel anxious or overwhelmed, as a result, our mental performance can be the first sign of distress. Adaptogens are a class of herbs, which have the ability to regulate the body’s ability to ‘adapt’ to stressors when taken during this time. The herbs listed have a long history as traditional remedies in Ayurvedic medicine:
- Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy basil is a highly revered herb for connection with higher states of consciousness. It calms our mind in a most beautiful state and especially helps us to ‘tune in’ to the present moment. It is an herb of meditation, assisting us in receptive states. Holy basil will also lift the mental fog and helps for clarity of mind.
- Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Gotu kola is regarded as one of the more spiritual herbs in Ayurveda, as it improves mood and cognitive function while balancing relaxation with increased energy. it offers a more balanced, non-stimulating effect. This makes it perfect for focusing at night.
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is considered an uplifting and joyful herb for the mind. It is gently calming and simultaneously improves cognition, attention span, and mood. This herb can also be used for relieving anxiety, and insomnia during this time and helps the mind and brain function to develop in the most positive way possible.
- Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)
Brahmi is another Ayurvedic herb known to support memory, concentration, and clarity of mind. Often used to support meditation, Brahmi is considered a bifunctional herb which other than helping a tension release in the body calming the mind it also supports healthy immune function. This adaptogenic herb can also reduce emotional stress and helps with insomnia.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
This adaptogenic herb is especially helpful when you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed (which makes it a perfect choice to use during Pandemic) Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is believed to help treat brain fog, increase focus, and balancing mood. This great herb supports healthy cortisol levels, concentration, supports healthy blood sugar levels, and can even support healthy immune function.
2. Seek connection.
In times of stress, you should be close to people who restore your sense of wellbeing. It’s important to feel connected and accepted because a feeling of connection can boost your immunity. However, how can you connect to others while also social distancing?
Fortunately, we’re lucky to live at a time with many options for video chats. Set up virtual herbal tea, cooking together or fun dates, and regular meetings to touch base with those people who make you feel connected.
Turmeric tea (Latte)
1cup whole milk or unsweetened almond milk + 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
+1/4 teaspoon ginger powder +1/2 tsp ghee+ 1/8 tsp cardamom powder
Almond with saffron or Rose drink
15-20 soaked raw almonds + 10 soaked raisins +2 cups pure water
1 tsp organic rose petals (optional)+1 tsp. Ghee+pinch saffron
Ashwagandha milk tea
1 cup milk of choice (whole, almond, coconut, etc.) +1/4 tsp. ground ashwagandha powder+1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon+
1/4 tsp. ground ginger +a pinch of ground nutmeg
1cup of water+ 4 tulsi leaf or ¼ tulsi powder+1/4 coriander seeds+ 1 teaspoon of honey
3. Honour your body’s natural rhythms.
Many people are having trouble sleeping right now. However, it’s more important than ever to try to get between seven and eight hours a night. Even if your normal routine is disrupted, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. That means going to bed at the same time every night (yes, even on weekends). As well, don’t dismiss the restorative powers of a good nap.
Other than sleep patterns, your eating habits also shouldn’t be disrupted during this time. Remember eating healthy will also Nourish the Soul. Foods that are whole and unadulterated contain more of the intelligence of nature and thus create more vitality, alertness, and happiness when you eat them. having seasonal fruits and foods that are high in nutrients and fresh will always be a wise choice over canned or packages or frozen foods.
Always try to follow your hunger and eat only if you feel hungry, Allow Adequate Time Between Meals Because The metabolic function works best when it is allowed to completely digest one meal before it starts in on another. And lastly, pay attention to your bowel movements during the day. Elimination patterns and stool qualities can be the best indicator of our health so focus on the foods that may give you constipation or diarrhea or affect your elimination cycle in any way.
4. Don’t overcommit.
We’re all under a lot of pressure right now. Take a close look at your commitments and think of how you can eliminate any unnecessary stress. Remember that the goal is to rest your nervous system.
What makes you feel refreshed and restored? Those are the activities to focus on.
Having too much stuff can lead to more stress. The more “stuff” you have in your life, the more your attention is consumed, and the more your stress is triggered. If you want to feel less stressed, decluttering your life is a good place to start. The goal is to simplify your environment by clearing out things that you no longer need or that no longer bring you joy, and cleaning up the areas where things tend to get messy and disorganized. Your room, your kitchen, your car, and even the extra applications on your phone needs to be de-cluttered and be in more organized shape so you can reduce the feelings of stress, fatigue, and depression.
5. Eat to optimize your immune system.
Many studies back up the importance of essential nutrients in protecting your immunity. The ideal diet and supplements for you will depend on your unique health profile, but important nutrients include selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and D. such as beans, nuts, root vegetables; and carrots.
In addition, don’t overlook the importance of maintaining a balance of “good bacteria” in your gut. More and more research points to the connection between a healthy gut and a healthy immune system.
- Fermented Asian food (kimchi) or any other kind of fermented food.
- Certain types of cheese like Cottage cheese, blue cheese, and Roquefort French cheese.
- In fact, up to 80 percent of your immune cells are found in your gut. The interaction between your gut microbiota and your immune system helps protect you against foreign pathogens.
6. Move your body.
Exercise can help your body’s nervous system maintain equilibrium. It can slow down the release of stress hormones and increase the number of disease-fighting white blood cells. As well, movement helps to regulate the communication between your brain and your body.
However, it’s important to move in a safe way – any irregularities in your body’s alignment can affect this process. Focus on doing something you love and making exercise a part of your daily routine. Consistency is the key! If you’re not sure exactly how to work out with gym closures, check out the multitude of workouts you can find online.
Did you know that Spices and culinary herbs are amazing to help lighten the body support to kick start you for exercises like metabolic building?
- Black pepper
7. Prioritize Self-Care
Even in stressful times, it’s possible to optimize your immune system. Focus on your body’s need to restore and repair itself and prioritize your self-care. Taking steps towards staying healthy can help you gain a sense of control in an uncertain world. And that will ultimately strengthen your response to stress.
Ismat Dhala-Nathani, DNM, CAP,
Founder & Director of Centre for Ayurveda & Indian Systems of Healing.
Roza Moradi. MD
Ayurvedic Health Educator