Have you ever made it through a particularly stressful time only to fall sick when it’s all over? Maybe it was after completing finals at school, finishing a big project at work, welcoming your spouse home after deployment, or playing hostess for the holidays. Any one of these stressful events can cause your normal healthy habits to be off, leaving you vulnerable to illness.
A lot of health and wellness articles come my way through Facebook and Pinterest, and around my birthday in early November, the articles hammered in the need for me to make some changes to help me stay healthy through the winter and beyond.
If you Google “ways to boost immunity,” you’ll get all kinds of helpful lists on things you can do to help prevent illness. The following immunity boosters are the top three changes that I needed to make. Chances are, you might be falling short in these areas as well.
- Manage Stress – According to WebMD, “Chronic stress exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system.” I absolutely love what I do here at InDependent, but being responsible for high-quality content that goes out every single day was a big adjustment. Add that to my other responsibilities, and I was feeling frazzled. I started taking stress management classes at my wellness center. Through biofeedback and simply talking to an educator, I became aware that I have the power to control my heart rate and response to stressful situations. One of the biggest, most effective changes I made was establishing an evening routine for my daughter so we could get mornings started on a relaxed note.
- Get Enough Sleep – I love waking up before my family for my morning meditation and yoga practice. However, I’m a night owl by nature, and a 0500 alarm means that I was getting six hours of sleep a night or less. According to the National Sleep Foundation, seven to nine hours of sleep a night is the rule of thumb for adults to be healthy. I was falling way short, depriving my body of the opportunity to produce immune boosting antibodies and leading to higher levels of stress hormones. To help encourage myself to get at least seven quality hours of sleep, I got myself a Fitbit Flex that magically tracks sleep, among other things. At the end of the night, I can see how long I was in bed, how long and often I was awake during the night, and how much I was restless. I can then see the hours slept on my dashboard throughout the day as a reminder to get to bed on time.
- Cut Back on Sugar – Consuming sugar handicaps bacteria-fighting immune system cells. Do you know how much sugar you take in? Sugar in some form (do you know all of the names?) appears in just about everything…ketchup, bread, and various nut butters. Start reading labels and you’ll see. In an effort to give my immune system a fighting chance, I’ve stopped eating refined sugars and have put other sweeteners into the ‘eat occasionally’ category.
- Bonus Habit – Drink Warm Lemon Water – According to Harvard Medical School, whether vitamin C really helps boost the immune system is up in the air. Still, the lists touting the benefits of warm lemon water abound. I happen to enjoy the practice, so whether it really helps my immune system or not, it’s a comforting routine that I look forward to every morning.
I hope I don’t jinx myself, but I’ve been very healthy so far this winter. I was exposed to a nasty cold at Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas. I had a sore throat for several days, but it never progressed into the runny nose and cough that everyone else had. I like to think that my mindfulness about stress, sleep, and sugar has helped keep me strong this winter.
Which “S” – stress, sleep, or sugar – is your biggest downfall? What changes do you think you could make to improve?