Feeling stressed during this fall’s back-to-school season? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly one third of Americans show signs of anxiety or depression since the pandemic entered our lives last spring. Given the stressful circumstances we find ourselves in, these numbers make sense. Techniques that support both the mind and the body can help increase resilience and reduce stress, thereby having a positive effect on immunity. Here’s 10 ways to boost mental and physical health this fall.
1. Reset with Mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply being curiously aware of the present moment. For some, that looks like meditation or prayer. The bottom line: mindfulness brings attention to what’s going on in and around you.
A 5 senses mindfulness break may help disengage from stressful thoughts and reconnect to your body and environment.
- Start by noticing 5 things you see around you.
- Then, notice 4 things you feel. It could be the cushion on your chair, your feet on the floor or the desk in front of you.
- Next, notice 3 things you hear. It could be chirping birds, conversation in the next room, or a fan.
- Followed by 2 things you smell such as a candle or brewing coffee.
- Lastly, notice 1thing you taste such as a sip of tea, gum or lingering toothpaste.
2. Soothe your Stress Response
The hormone oxytocin is released through touch and can down-regulate the stress response. It can shift us out of fight or flight with its “tend and befriend” properties. Oxytocin is the brain’s antidote to cortisol. Here are a few ways to soothe the stress response and restore resilience:
- Massage the base of your skull. Your vagus nerve is full of oxytocin receptors.
- Place your hands on your heart during 3 deep breaths.
- Give a 20 second hug, even to a pet. Or, just wrapping your arms around yourself can create a soothing sense of containment.
3. Enjoy Music, Laughter and Positive Emotions
In addition to taking a break from too much news or social media, consider adding more of your favorite tunes and funny movies. Music can have a positive effect on stress levels and laughter can reduce stress hormones and increase endorphins. Several studies from Loma Linda University by researcher Dr. Lee Berk showed that watching a comedy show can boost immune system functioning.
4. Breathe in Calm. Breathe out Stress.
Inhaling is associated with the sympathetic fight or flight response. Exhaling is associated with the restorative parasympathetic nervous system. One mind-body technique involves making the exhale longer than the inhale.
Mind-body techniques can reduce stress and may be less time-consuming and cumbersome to implement during the day than at first glance:
- Take a deep breath, elongate the out breath before dialing the phone.
- Notice if you’re holding your breath while checking email.
- Midday, see where you notice tension in your body. Bring shoulders down from ears, unclench hands and stretch as needed.
5. Create Balance
One way to manage stress is to consider work-life balance. For many working from home, the lines between work time and leisure time may be blurred more. Whether your productivity happens at the office or the home office, see how you can incorporate small stress-reduction moments. These might involve something as simple as setting intentional water breaks, light stretching every few hours or taking phone calls while on a walk.
6. Soak Up the Sun & Sleep Well
Ensuring quality sleeping patterns is essential for the immune system. When we stay awake even though our bodies cue us for sleep, it increases stress and affects our health. Whether it’s guzzling extra caffeinated beverages during the day or it’s mindlessly scrolling through the news on our phones at night, what we do affects our ability to rest and reset.
You don’t need to wait until bedtime to support sleep. Soaking up sunlight in the early day can both positively affect cortisol rhythms and Vitamin D levels. Many adults are low on Vitamin D and can negatively influence sleep and thus immunity. We recommend 10,000 IUs a day of Designs for Health’s Vitamin D with K2.
Getting some morning sun could increase productivity and concentration during the day and set you up to catch more z’s at night. Increasing movement during the day, whether a walk in the sunlight or your normal workout routine can be a boost to sleep and immunity.
7. Get Moving
Regular physical activity gives the immune system a boost. Not moving as much as you’d like to right now? Consider what types of movement you’ve enjoyed in the past. Then, think about one small step that could help you get on track. Need to purchase running shoes? Time to recharge the FitBit or download a new yoga video? Tackle any barriers that tend to get in the way of movement you like. Consider finding accountability in a friend, family member or health coach.
Moderate exercise can raise levels of white blood cells and antibodies needed to fight infections. Also, moving more means increased circulation and decreased stress hormones. However, excessive strenuous exercise is a stress on the immune system.
8. Eat Well to Feel Well
During times of high stress, it’s natural to reach for foods that bring comfort. You may also want to consider the importance of supporting your immune system with foods like citrus, spinach, garlic and broccoli. Antioxidant-rich foods can reduce the risk of virus infection. Limiting sugar, vegetable oils, processed foods and alcohol can positively influence immunity. Also, low inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables eaten each day can lower body-wide inflammation. Eating a variety of produce, and aiming for up to 10 servings per day, could positively affect immune functioning. Consider fermented vegetables or other foods rich in probiotics.
Stress weakens the immune system. It may be helpful to supplement with vitamins and minerals that may have become depleted such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin D and Zinc. Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions regarding what supplements could work well for you.
9. Consider Peptides
A cutting-edge approach to boosting immunity and helping the body reset after stress involves specific peptides. Peptides are essentially a small version of a protein. They are a chain of two or more amino acids strung together made by the body to promote regeneration.
Peptides serve as signaling agents like hormones and have very specific, precise functions by type. Two specific peptides that target immune functions are Thymosin Alpha-1 and Thymosin Beta-4. Since quality and purity is crucial for safety in peptide use, working with your healthcare provider is key. Compounding pharmacies can prepare peptides to be administered as injections, creams, nasal sprays or in oral form.
10. Reduce Stress with a Detox
We live in a toxic stew. Environmental toxins in the air, water and food can stress the body. Because of this, many people benefit from a planned detox 2-3 times a year. Our patients will often use the 14-day OmniCleanse Detox by Des Bio. Minimizing exposure to chlorinated drinking water, heavy metals, pollution, mold and mycotoxins and even food additives can help protect against the negative effects of common toxins on the body’s immunity.
You can consider a lifestyle detox, as well. What’s one thing you could remove from your week that would increase resilience and decrease stress?
How are you getting back to the basics of health?
The body, including the immune system, functions better when aided by health-promoting methods and when protected from environmental triggers. While none of the strategies are a quick fix, improving lifestyle habits can make the body less susceptible to viruses and disease while hopefully minimizing their severity if they do occur. By taking steps to incorporate strategies that support both physical and emotional wellbeing, you can help promote optimal immune functioning over time. Which of these back-to-the-basics of health guidelines are you already using? Which ones do you want to focus on during back-to-school season?