My health recovery journey from a debilitating, immunocompromising illness gave me insights into how to support my health and stay calm.
I’m sharing this post because I know many people feel overwhelmed right now about the global health outbreak, particularly the immunocompromised, new parents, and/or those with brain health issues.
This post will cover:
- Simple suggestions for supporting your immune system (beyond just the basics)
- Ideas for people (especially those with brain health impairments) to stay calm during this time
Here are 11 things I’m doing to take care of myself (beyond washing my hands)
Our immune systems work better when we’re calm.
People with anxiety, PTSD, inflammation from traumatic brain injuries that didn’t fully heal, and/or neuroimmune conditions like Myalgic Encephalomyelitis have a maladaptive response to stress. In the face of a global outbreak, this can trigger a spike in symptoms and further compromise the immune system. Here’s what I’m doing to stay calm and to give my immune system an edge.
1. Unplug for my brain health
It’s impossible to go online right now and not get sucked into a Coronavirus click-hole. My friends with anxiety are experiencing a spike in symptoms during this stressful time.
We can be grateful for the early alerters, like my friend who lives in Italy, and doctors and scientists advising caution. However, we all now know what to do – stay home.
For my brain health, I unplug and ask my calm husband to keep me informed.
- Deleting energy-zapping social media apps from my phone (here’s my 7 step digital detox for beginners)
- Having a window during the day of no Internet usage (avoid screen usage the first 90 minutes and the last 2 hours of the day)
Focus on your self-care, not the disease counter map, to support your health. I’m personally choosing to refrain from reacting to others who are not taking this seriously, as it’s been shown to only add to the turmoil. Instead, I’m focusing on my health and letting the doctors and scientists speak about how serious this is.
2. Getting good sleep
Top tip: Avoid screens 2 hours before bed
Our immune system does some of its best work when we’re asleep. One of the key tips from my new favorite book, Sleep Smarter, is avoiding screens before bed. I recently wrote about other sleeping tips. There are ways to avoid staring at a screen without dying of boredom.
After dinner, I listen to relaxing podcasts on speaker (my favorite right now happens to be The Model Health Show), read books, journal, meditate, play a board game, and talk to my spouse. On occasion, I’ll take a nice Epsom salt bath.
If you’re over 30, you survived without a cell phone and Netflix for more than half your life. Think: What did you do back then?
Whatever you do now, don’t check the disease counter map for the 40th time before going to bed. This will trigger a rise in cortisol which will suppress sleep hormones and keep you wired. And if you did, forgive yourself.
3. Meditating (before I go online)
These days, I wake up early and go through my calming morning routine before I check my email, texts, or social media. This has included hydrating with a large glass of warm purified water, meditating, and five other calming morning rituals that have been beneficial to my overall health.
If my sleep wasn’t ideal (because I cheated and went into an Internet rabbit hole), this morning routine helps me reset and ease me back into “rest and digest mode” that’s necessary for good health. I’ve been extending my morning routine a little bit this past week (longer meditation, more deep breathing and restorative stretches) before going online.
4. Moisturizing my nose and hands (after washing hands thoroughly)
Most infections, like the current one, are caught through our membranes. When there are cracks in our nasal membrane, viruses and bacteria can more easily enter our bloodstream. Replenishing hydration with a moisturizer or locking in moisture with petroleum jelly helps create a protective layer on our skin’s natural biome.
Likewise, when our hands are cracked, they are more vulnerable to germs, which is why healthcare experts like pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Craig Shapiro, recommend mouisturizing them after washing to protect against the Coronavirus and other pathogens.
I use an organic moisturizer. My husband, a frequent business traveller, uses Aveeno or Burt’s Bees. I apply it when my hands are clean. Saline or hyaluronic acid nasal spray are also effective for moistening the nose, though are not recommended for long term use. I think of it as a protective shield, locking in my natural health.
5. Cutting out sugar, caffeine, and alcohol (and gluten/cheese)
Sugar, caffeine, and alcohol suppress our immune system and contribute to stress and anxiety. They can impair our sleep which can have us craving more to help us wake up (caffeine), stay awake (sugar), and go to sleep (alcohol). I choose to steer clear.
Many gut health experts also recommend limiting gluten and dairy, particularly when combined, as they are known to increase gut cell lining turnover. Our gut lining protects the billions of organisms in our gut biome from entering our blood circulation where they don’t belong (here’s a good overview by Dr. Chris Kresser).
While many people eat pizza and are just fine, choosing foods that are easier on the gut can help give your body an edge during this time. Right now, I’m also enjoying immune boosting foods like sauerkraut, steamed shiitake mushrooms, steamed greens, and garlic.
On an everyday basis, I eat seasonal, whole foods and avoid eating anything fried, processed, or cold, which is hard on our digestion. One of my former health professionals will be writing a guest post about eating for your individual body and for the weather, which I’m looking forward to share.
6. Supporting my immune system (when needed)
On a daily basis, I take magnesium and have iodized salt because these minerals are no longer contained in our soil in sufficient amounts. Magnesium is a necessary element for our musculoskeletal system, brain health, and digestion. Iodine is necessary for our immune system and thyroid functionality.
Note: I am not a health professional, this is what I personally do.
When I’m looking for an immune boost, I’ll take glutathione (a powerful antioxidant), natural vitamin C, a premium brand of pure echinacea that’s only available through licensed health professionals, methylated B vitamins, and zinc. Studies show zinc and echinacea should not be taken on a long-term basis.
Now that I’m back in full health, I don’t take all these when I need a boost, but each have their reported benefits. As you may know, supplements are unregulated and many contain fillers and impure ingredients. It’s important to consult a trusted health professional before taking supplements, to be aware of any contraindications, and with what foods (or none) to take (or not take) them with.
7. Getting natural Vitamin D
Catching sun first thing in the morning and throughout the day blocks melatonin receptors, which helps your body produce it at night to help you sleep. I learned this from the book Sleep Smarter. The sun can also naturally boost your Vitamin D levels, which is a necessary nutrient for our immune system.
Over half of American and British adults, however, have suboptimal Vitamin D levels, including 25% who are deficient. If you safely can (i.e. you have a yard or live next to nature), go outside for some vitamin D.
You can also get it through nutrition. Marine algae, refined cod liver oil (unrefined cod liver oil has extremely high amounts of Vitamin A), salmon, and pasture-raised eggs all contain Vitamin D.
8. Reciting positive health affirmations (just try it)
I would have laughed at you if you told me one day I’d be reciting mantras. Yet I find doing so to has been surprisingly helpful for my health recovery and continued wellbeing. Here are some of my personal favorite health affirmations. (I hope this is helpful to anyone during this time, especially those with brain health or immune conditions.)
- I am invincible. My immune system is strong. My body can easily clear what it no longer needs.
- All is well. With each new breath, I inhale strength and exhale fear.
- A state of perfect health and calmness is within me, and I can always come back to it.
I’ve tried several affirmations apps and like ThinkUp the most. You can record your mantras (they provide a library of suggestions), then play them in loop. It edits your voice somehow to sound more ethereal, and you can also add in background music.
9. Cleaning with my lung health in mind
Keeping my lungs as healthy as they can be is important to me. So is keeping my clothes and counters clean.
Harsh cleaning products like bleach can irritate the eyes, nasal membranes, and lungs. The NIH warns against acute and long-term exposure to chlorine gas, which can cause lung inflammation and respiratory failure. If you plan to clean your home with bleach, government websites and Clorox recommend a 1:30 ratio with water. Government guides advise not to mix bleach with ammonia or other acidic cleaners, as doing so can cause serious injury.
Ewg.org has safety ratings for most cleaning products. I personally use Branch Basics, Ecos, and Puracy. My husband Swiffers our floor. If you use a diffuser for santizing the air, make sure to only use one drop of essential oil, from a premium trusted source.
10. Surrounding myself with joy
Not only am I guarding my health from negativity and stress, I’m doubling down on self-care and things that bring me joy.
I’m watching feel good TV shows, listening to relaxing educational podcasts, meditating, enjoying the sunlight, and following people who inspire me. When others are watching the news, I’m watching the Golden Girls. I’ve gotten my husband into this show, too, when he’s home – he’s very amused by these ladies.
Happiness is part of our health and we need to talk about it more. This is not medical advice, just my personal advice from my own health recovery journey.
11. Staying home
Experts recommend staying home during the global outbreak. For those who work outside the home, hopefully your work allows you to. Keeping ourselves healthy and focusing on self-care routines is the best thing we can all do right now.
While I’m at home, I do whatever is in my health zone to circulate my blood and move my lymph fluid. Now that I’ve recovered my health, I lift light weights, stretch, and walk outside (I live in a non-crowded area). In the past, I often did deep breathing exercises, which can drain lymph fluid. Good blood flow and lymph flow are beneficial for our overall health.
Nothing is more important than our health
It’s not just about the strength of the virus, it’s also about our strength — doing everything we can do to keep our brains, guts, and immune systems functioning at their best, while socially isolating and abiding by good hygiene.
What are you doing to stay healthy and calm during this time? Let us know in the comments below.
Stay tuned for our next posts on how the public can help the immunocompromised during this time and ten ways to create joy without going anywhere.
And remember, don’t touch your face. This is a more of a reminder to myself… don’t touch your face, Liz!