How to Boost Your Immunity Against the Coronavirus Series - Lifestyle
One of the most profound things you can do to strengthen your immune system is to avoid stress. This is something many of us don’t consider as being truly important, but the truth is that when you are highly stressed, you become “run down” and far more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.
There is actually a very logical reason for this. When you are stressed, this essentially places the body into what is known as a “fight or flight state.” This is the body’s response to danger, controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, and intended to help improve our chances of a positive outcome in a physical confrontation. This literally prepares your body to either get into a physical fight, or run away from a danger.
In the fight or flight mode, our body therefore increases production of adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, and other excitatory neurotransmitters and hormones. These trigger numerous physiological changes throughout the body: accelerating the heartrate, increasing muscle tone, narrowing vision, and even thickening the blood.
All these adaptations are intended to improve our chances of survival – the thickening of the blood for instance is intended to encourage clotting so that we will scab over and not bleed out in case of injury.
What this ALSO does though, is to drive blood and oxygen away from the vital organs and toward the muscles and the brain. We need muscle to fight, and we need a sharp mind to spot chances to escape. We DON’T need to be concerning ourselves with digestion at this point. Likewise, we don’t need to channel a lot of energy into immunity – there are more pressing concerns than the common cold right now! Thus, when you are stressed, your muscle tone increases but your immune system is suppressed.
In the wild where our bodies evolved, these kinds of threats would be immediate and short-lived. We might see a predator cross our paths, enter a stressed state, and then escape only to calm down. Today though, sources of stress often persist and follow us around. You might be stressed about some aspect of your relationship for instance, about money, or about your boss. Perhaps you have too much work on your plate in the office.
You come home and you think about these things, keeping you in that aroused state and keeping your immune system suppressed. This means you are going for long stretches of time as highly vulnerable to ANY illness that might attack. This is chronic stress, and it’s terrible for our health.
So how do you overcome this stress? For many of us, sources of stress are unavoidable. It’s not so easy to simply quit your job, and your money troubles are unlikely to go away overnight, even if you will them to!
What you can do though, is to change the way you react to those troubles. This is where meditation and mindfulness come in, both of which are tools that we can use to better manage our long-term chronic stress. Studies show that meditation can help to reduce the incidence of disease, and this is a great way to improve many other aspects of health too.
Another thing you can do is to try and counterbalance those negative moods with positive ones. That means spending time with friends, doing things you love, planning for the future, and going on holiday. If you think about the people you know who never seem to get sick, they’re likely the same people who have boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. This is not a coincidence!
Likewise, you also need to make sure that you sleep as healthily as possible. The opposite of the fight or flight response (which is also known as a sympathetic response, or a catabolic state), is rest and digest – or an anabolic state. It’s during this tie that our body sends more energy to our immune systems and digestion, to help us repair and fortify our bodies for the day ahead. This happens when we are physically and mentally at rest.
And you are never more at rest than when you are asleep. Sleep is the most anabolic state the body can enter naturally, and is a time when you will build muscle, restore tissue, and drive our infection and illness.
The more sleep you get, the more resilient you will be against all kinds of disease.
Some tips for getting the best sleep possible include:
● Making sure that your room is as dark and quiet as possible
● Investing in a better mattress
● Aiming to go to bed and wake up at a consistent time every night/morning
● Taking a warm bath or shower before bed
● Avoiding exposure to blue-light emitting devices for half and hour before bed
● Avoiding stimulating activities such as gaming or watching movies
● Using CBT and other methods to calm your thoughts
● Keeping the bedroom slightly cool. Keeping the window a jar is actually even better, as this helps you to feel the temperature cool and then heat up – important signals to the body.