Living through a pandemic offers new challenges – worries about health, money, and relationships are just a few concerns we all face as we hunker down at home. Trying to stay healthy is a number one concern for many people. You might think that boosting your immune system is all about taking vitamin pills and watching your blood pressure. The truth is that protecting yourself from illness depends on your mind as much as your body. Eating healthy, getting exercise, following doctor’s orders are all imporatnt, but today we are looking at the surprising connection between you immune system and your personality.
There’s a growing field of science called psychoneuroimmunology that’s devoted to how your personality and mood affect your immune system. Take the time to discover what you can do to cultivate traits that help you stay healthy.
Stress and Your Immune System
So many readers tell me about the increase stress they are feeling during this pandemic. Daily I see parents trying to juggle their own work at home with supporting their children in their schooling. I know small business owners that are trying to adapt to the changes and keep their businesses afloat.
Chronic stress may be responsible for as much as 90% of all doctor visits in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When stress hormones like cortisol remain present for too long, they can cause disruptions that lead to premature aging, heart conditions, and other issues.
Slow down. Take a deep breath when you find your mind racing. Take a moment of mindful breathing.
Trim your to-do list. Look for items that you can scratch off your agenda. Maybe you can do laundry only once a week. While you might be looking for activities to keep yourself busy at home, don’t add to a must-do list. Build a list of ways to be kind to yourself instead.
Rest and relax. Refresh your body and mind with high quality sleep and effective relaxation. Go to bed and rise at the same time each day. Take a walk or meditate when you need a break.
Loneliness and Your Immune System
Staying at home for many is a very lonely feeling. Lack of social support can also undermine your immune system. Several studies have found higher levels of antibodies in participants who report being lonely, which suggests more viral activity.
Schedule get-togethers. Zoom and Face Time are our new go-to’s to enjoy the company of friends and family. Prioritize time spent with friends. In our home, we now have regular family trivia nights on Zoom, and I have a Friday morning early coffee visit with a friend. Take the time to reach out and set up a regular Tuesday morning coffee date or a Saturday afternoon chat. It is possible.
Take a class. We recently took a live online cooking class. This interactive activity was fun, had us laughing and engaging with perfect strangers, enjoying delicious food, and all of this was in the comfort of our own kitchen.
Join a new group. With so many interest-based groups on Facebook, Apps, and through MeetUp, there is something for everyone. Find an online group to join and become an active member by reading and commenting on the posts of others. You never know where you may meet a new online friend.
Take a walk. If you’re feeling isolated working at home, take a walk through your neighborhood and breathe some fresh air. I have gotten in the habit of taking a short walk at noon each day to break up my work schedule, get away from my computer screen, and get a bit of fresh air. Many of my neighbors seem to be doing the same thing! These walks often include short chats (from a distance) with my neighbors. This is such an easy way to connect with my neighbors.
Anger and Your Immune System
A Harvard University study found that hostility can decrease lung capacity, possibly due to stress hormones inflaming airways. While angry outbursts or bottling up emotions can be hard on your heart and immune system, there are more constructive approaches.
Practice forgiveness. Choose to let go of resentments. Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. Remember how much better you’ll feel when you release the past.
Count to ten. Pause before you say or do something you may regret. A few seconds maybe all you need to prevent a conflict. Living in close quarters can be challenging. Acknowledge that we are all in this together, and we just may need to find a bit more patience with those around us all of the time.
Laugh more. There are some issues worth battling for, and many others that you can safely overlook. See that photo of a person’s closet stocked with toilet paper as entertaining rather than annoying. Just think what’s going to happen when their toddler finds the never ending stash of rolling paper! Find the humor around you.
Altruism and Your Immune System
Helping others causes physiological changes in your brain that make you happier and calmer. Good deeds strengthen your immune system and enhance your wellbeing.
Volunteer your time. Even if money is tight, you can be generous with your time. There are still ways to help others. You can write letters to those living is Assisted Living Facilities or deliver groceries to those that cannot get out the door for essentials. I have a friend busy sewing face masks for others; a friend expanding their home garden to have produce to share with others. I have a volunteer meet with students online to help support them in their reading. There are ways to help others.
Share your wisdom. Let others benefit from your expertise. If you’re a whiz at math, tutor school children who are struggling with fractions. Post your recipe for sourdough bread online.
Offer praise. Brighten someone’s day with a kind word. Tell your mail carrier how much you appreciate their services.
Recognizing the mind-body connection may help you to catch fewer colds and lower your risk for more serious illnesses. For a longer and healthier life, protect your immune system by managing stress and connecting with others. Yes, we are living through a historic time. A time that is proving to be very stressful for many people and households. Now more than ever it is important that we do all that we can to help bolster our healthy habits and maintain a healthy environment for ourselves.
If you want more support to help you reach your goal of living a healthy and balanced life, I am here to help you. Now more than ever, it is important to focus on our health and well-being. One step at a time, I will guide you through gaining clarity, designing a map, and overcoming all the road blocks and self-sabotaging behaviors that are holding you back from living the healthy life you want and deserve. Help can be found at Moving Forward. Check it out. The course will have you start working towards your dreams the very first week.