The Link Between Immune System Health and Mental Wellness

April 7, 2020

 

Hi everyone, hope that all of you are keeping well and healthy during these life changing times. I hope that I can offer some valuable tips to all of you. I would love to hear from you, tell me what you like, if you try any of the recommendations, and what your experience with them are, and what you would like more information on. I am open to suggestions for future posts as well.

 

I am going to give a quick description of what holistic nutrition is, or more how it differs from dietetics or just nutrition. Holistic nutrition takes into consideration the whole person and gives recommendations on not only food, but emotional, mental and spiritual health and well-being as well. If we are not well in these other facets of ourselves, we do not digest, absorb or eliminate food properly. Further, how we eat and take care of ourselves (or not) has to do with our emotional, mental and/spiritual state as well as our physical needs, knowledge, income etc etc. Health is complex as are we and so holistic nutritionists collect a lot of information about a person in order to make the right recommendations for each individual, there is no one size fits all, or one plan that is right for everyone.

 

The reason I wanted to explain that is because although nutrition is important, today I want to talk about how our mental/emotional health can help or hurt our immune systems.

To touch on nutrition -the best thing you can do is to eat the healthiest food you have access to right now, making sure you are eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible. In my next post I will be talking about strategies to control weight when not moving as much as normal, and perhaps eating more, while still eating some of the comfort foods that we need right now. I get it!

The main thing I want to focus on today is stress management. These are scary, stressful times and I feel it is an important topic to address.

 

We may not have access to all the best foods right now, or the best vitamins and supplements. But we do have access to, now and always, our thoughts, emotions and actions. Stress, worry, and negativity are huge slams to our immune systems. This is because when we are in a stressed state the body releases hormones to help us to deal with the stressor. Hormones such a cortisol and adrenaline are released to give us the ‘energy’ we need to deal with the stressor, which would from an evolutionary standpoint be temporary (a bear in front of you). The concept of chronic stress is a new one and our bodies do not have a different system to activate to deal with it. It uses the same system of hormones being released. When these hormones are circulating constantly at higher than normal levels your immune system is weakened and not able to defend you the way it should. Also, stress usually affects sleep, and not sleeping well is a guaranteed way to weaken your immune system.

 

One way to keep our immune systems strong is by not worrying about things, because worrying never changes the outcome of a situation, it only damages our health and wastes energy that we could be spending on productive things, like action to change the outcome or acceptance that we cannot and have to deal with whatever happens- at the time. We do not have infinite energy and we need to make choices on what we spend that energy on.

 

Stress is normal and I am not suggesting that people need to eliminate stress from their lives. That would be unfair and unrealistic.

 

What I am suggesting is that:

1)  We do not create stress where there didn’t need to be any. Worrying about ‘what will happen’ when you do not have control over it is one very common example.

2)  We learn to manage our stress in healthy ways such as:

  1. Exercise and movement

  2. Talking to people we love about the things that are bothering us

  3. Taking advice

  4. Asking for help

  5. Yoga

  6. Mantras

  7. Doing something you love

  8. Doing something nice for someone (because you want to)

  9. Reading

  10. Gratitude Practice

  11. Bringing yourself back to the present moment

Unnecessary stress is caused by thinking of the past or the future (vs unavoidable stress of something happening in the present moment). When you catch yourself thinking about the past or the future and stressing about it do something to bring yourself back to the present moment. I find focusing on my breath to be an easy and effective way, but if it does not work for you, do a little google search for other ways or think of something that could work for you.

 

12.Meditation

 

I want to tease out meditation here because I’ve noticed that the thought of meditation generates stress in some people. I think it is because people think the goal is to ‘clear their mind’, and when they cannot achieve that it causes them stress and to feel like ‘failures’.  Let me offer another way to look at meditation. The goal is not to clear your mind. The goal is that as you have thoughts, to acknowledge the thought, but to not attach to that thought and generate more and more thoughts around that thought, thus creating stress. And as you become better and better at this in your meditation practice, that you start to apply to your life outside of the practice as well.

If you were say, starting to learn the guitar, there is no way that you would expect yourself to be a pro from one day to the next. Try to think of meditation the same way. It takes time, so give yourself credit for trying and sticking with it and any progress you notice along the way.

 

It may sound simplistic or silly that our own thoughts are what generate more stress than anything else in our own lives, but they do. Spend some time just noticing your own thoughts without doing anything else. How many do you think are positive, kind, helpful? How many are negative, mean, harmful? It’s a great place to start to understand the power of your thoughts.

I find just sitting and constantly bringing myself back to my breath to be simplest and most effective meditation but there are many other techniques, repeating mantras, or guided meditations.

 

Here is one I really like.

 

Briefly on negativity.  We cannot be grateful and negative at the same time. Whenever you catch yourself in a negative thought, think of something you are grateful for. I heard a great quote once, ‘you may not have control over your first thought, but you do have control over the next one.                            

I know these are trying times, and it might feel justifiable to be negative, if there ever was a time. But it is not. It doesn’t help anyone, least of all you.

Again, what is helpful is, preparing, action, acceptance, kindness, gratitude, being generous, helping others, love.

 

In order to make real change in our lives, we need to want to and we need to see the benefit in it. If you want to you are already a step ahead, spend some time thinking about why and maybe make a list of how you think it will benefit you. Then if you find yourself slipping or giving up, you can refer back to your ‘whys’ for motivation and inspiration.

 

Mental health (and health in general) is our biggest asset and need. If we do not have it nothing else is possible. Although I know this is easier said than done, the MOST IMPORTANT thing that we need to take care of right is our own mental health and then that of the people around us.

If anyone would like more information or need support at this time please reach out by email and I will be happy to, no charge.

 

Take Good Care

 

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