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Mindset Shifts for Building a Strong Immune System
Science has made some amazing discoveries in the last 5 years. We now know that what we think and feel impacts our immune system via chemical messages from the brain. This means that stress, negative thinking, and certain emotional states can harm our immune system, making us more susceptible to colds, flu, and other diseases. But the good news is it's also easy to shift the way we think and positively impact our immune system instead.
Here are 5 ways to shift our mindset around lifestyle habits that we know suppress our immune system:
Many of us love a glass of bubbles, a beer or a GnT here or there. And there's nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional couple of alcoholic drinks guilt-free. But as the days get shorter and we become less active in the evenings, it can become all too easy to start enjoying a couple of drinks most nights of the week.
What's important to realise is that alcohol is inflammatory. It slows liver detoxification and is an immune-suppressant. And it's when our immune system is suppressed that we're more likely to get sick.
But it takes the edge off and helps me relax… I get it, me too sometimes.
So how about this mindset shift – rather than thinking I NEED alcohol to help me relax, instead say to yourself something like I ENJOY alcohol, and I'm going to choose to have a couple of drinks just one night a week, with friends or family and enjoy myself. Then do your best to get really present with those you're with and make it more about having fun with them, instead of the alcohol.
If you're feeling run down, perhaps choose to skip the alcoholic drinks this week and order a fizzy kombucha, or make this Cheeky Spritz, instead. This mindset shift moves us away from feeling reliant on something that can lower our immune system. To something we realise we can cut back on or skip altogether if we start feeling poorly.
2) The Way We Eat.
What we eat has a significant impact on the way we feel and our immune system. In particular, the amount of processed foods we eat versus fresh food made with love at home.
Processed foods (things like deli meats, chips, store-bought cakes, ready-made grocery store meals, etc.) due to the high amount of hydrogenised oils they're made with to increase shelf-life, cause inflammation in the body. And inflammation is what compromises our immune system.
As the weather turns cooler and the afternoons darker, we naturally crave more comforting mac n cheese-style comfort foods. And there's nothing wrong with that. They help keep our bodies fuelled. What's important is to make healthy immune-building versions of these foods instead of reaching for the pre-packaged supermarket kind.
Make it super easy on yourself by making a slow-cooker your go-to kitchen appliance this season. Find recipes that simply call for chopped-up veggies and quality cuts of meat or lentils/beans, together with your favourite herbs and spices. Meals that you can prep and turn on in the morning and have simmer away all day and fill the house with a delicious smell that intoxicates you the minute you walk back in at the end of the day!
There are many websites that can help convert your favourite mac n cheese-style comfort foods to cleaner and healthier versions. Or check out these vegan recipe ideas to get you started.
3) LACK OF MOVEMENT.
Sunlight, movement, and fresh air are 3 things that improve our immune systems. But as the days grow shorter, these are three things that we are more likely to forgo as creatures of comfort. Saying, but it's just too cold and dark to get outside…
I sometimes feel this too. But the key is not to allow it to become an excuse that keeps us from helping ourselves live a healthier life.
Exercise helps us to better modulate inflammation in the immune system. When we move our body, we help our lymphatic system, which helps with drainage. It also helps move white blood cells throughout the body, which fight infection and other disease on our behalf.
Here's a mindset shift – change things up as the weather changes. Go for a sauna. Yes, it feels cold to get outside, but just imagine how toasty warm it will feel to get into a sauna. The heat in a sauna helps kill off infection and keep inflammation at bay. And it will feel even more of a reward after walking or running some of the way there.
Another way to be gentler on ourselves at this time of year is to end the day with a few immune system boosting yoga poses, such as:
- Child pose
- Bridge pose
- Cobra pose
- Bow pose
Or simply laying for a few moments in "Legs up the Wall" pose – you can even do this in bed with your legs up the headboard:
- Start by creating a cozy space around a wall, perhaps with a pillow, blanket, and candle.
- Sit down and begin to shimmy your hips as close to the wall as you can.
- Then walk your feet up the wall until you're in a somewhat L-shaped position.
- Adjust yourself, so you feel as relaxed as possible – perhaps placing a pillow under your head or hips and letting your arms rest on your belly or out to your sides.
- Focus on breathing slowly and deeply, in and out through your nose.
Aim to stay in Legs Up the Wall pose for 10-15mins. Or for as long as you feel your body and mind relaxing. This pose is a great stress reliever, increases circulation, improves digestion, as well as sleep.
Here's some more fitness motivation.
4. Not Getting Enough Sleep.
Especially in the cooler months, can weaken our immune response, increasing our chances of catching a cold or infection.
Some of us have no trouble getting extra sleep as the weather cools down. But you might be someone who's tempted to get a little too cozy losing yourself in Netflix binges that last way past a bedtime that gives you the sleep you need at this time of year.
Mother Nature has been doing this a long time. She has her seasons, and when we follow our body's natural rhythm, we'll notice that it naturally wants to slow down at this time of year. We crave more sleep, and when we nourish ourselves with what we need, we'll build a naturally more robust immune system as a result.
So, work with your circadian rhythm and honour your needs by intentionally turning lights out earlier than you would in the summer months. For more sleep tips, take a look at How to Get Good Sleep.
5. Stress, Fear, and Anxiety
These all weaken our immune system via chemical messages from the brain that negatively impact our gut microbiome. Unrelenting cortisol, our primary stress hormone, is what suppresses our immune system by reducing the number of its virus-fighting cells.
Moving into another winter with the pandemic has many of us wondering whether we will face even more restrictions. Instead of being fearful and worrying in advance of more changes, let's help ourselves feel mentally and emotionally stronger by doing things like:
- turning off the news and commercial radio
- choosing to fill our homes with uplifting music instead
- listening to inspiring podcasts or audiobooks
- cultivating a daily meditation or mindfulness practice
It’s the little things that can add up big at this time of year. How do you like to take care of yourself in cooler weather? Let us know in the comments below.