There's never been a better time to be your healthiest self. I'll keep this to-the-point: Here are 9 ways I'm optimizing my well-being and resilience right now, which you can consider too.
These are the same recommendations that I give to most of my patients. As with everything posted on this site, it is for educational purposes, and not medical advice. I'm providing references to studies, where I have them. There's a lot of health information zipping around on the internet these days, and I want you to know that what I'm sharing is grounded in modern research and/or traditional wisdom.
Real quick, before that list, I want to note that I'm following the same basic public health advice that I hope you and your neighbors are, too:
- frequent, thorough handwashing
- not touching my face
- for the time being, avoiding physical contact and public places (although "social closeness-ing" by phone and online is happening more than ever!)
And now the list:
1. Positive attitude, relaxation, and laughter.
We always have plenty to worry about or be afraid of - especially if we look for it. Right now, we don't have to look very hard.
However, we also always have plenty to be grateful for, to enjoy, to laugh about, and to be generous with - especially if we look for it.
Stress can negatively affect our immune systems.(1) Laughter and meditation can positively affect our immune systems.(2)
Look for ways to have fun and relax right now. If a little voice inside says kicking back and laughing is irresponsible or inconsiderate, talk back to it! Say, "This is vital for my health."
2. Sleep and rest.
We must sleep to have optimal immune function.(3) Prioritize it. Turn off your devices at least an hour before bedtime. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep - and 8 or 9 hours if your body wants that!
Chinese Medicine wisdom guides us to be asleep by 11pm at the very latest. I'm talking about the real 11pm according to the earth and the sun, not 11pm on the clock. So, the time that happens an hour before the midpoint between sunset and sunrise. Where I live, right now we're in Daylight Savings Time, and that's 12:30am on the clock, so being asleep by then is really not too much to ask!
If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, check out this post for some ideas: What's Your Insomnia Type?
3. Food as medicine.
Your food can be your medicine. And, it can be a source of illness. In brief, with immune function in mind, here are 3 ideas:
- AVOID known stressors to the immune, respiratory or digestive system. For all of us, this includes sugar. I feel that sugar belongs on the very top of the "avoid" list right now. If you can/want to only cut one thing, that would be my choice.
- For many of us, this "avoid" list also includes dairy products and gluten. It is very important to avoid foods that trigger a negative response in your own unique body. For me, right now this includes all grains, legumes, and dairy, among other things. With my lifelong history of lung issues, you can bet I'm 100% sticking to the foods that work best for me and avoiding anything that causes irritation and inflammation.
- EMPHASIZE foods that are full of anti-oxidants, known for antiviral properties, and/or known to support the immune system:
- brightly colored fruits and vegetables; ideally fresh, second-choice is frozen (I aim to fill half my plate with vegetables at every meal!)
- garlic (especially when raw), onions, ginger
- oregano, basil, sage, rosemary
- medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail)
4. Water: Drink it.
I go by the recommendation to drink enough that my urine is pale.(4) Many experts recommend taking your weight (in pounds), dividing it in half, and drinking that number of ounces of water per day.
5. Hydrotherapy: a.k.a., hot-cold showers.
I love this practice. It was one of the first things I learned at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM, and back then, called NCNM). Here's how it's done:
- Take a hot shower, as hot as you can stand, until you feel really warm, preferably at least 5 minutes. You must feel warm before you move on to the next step.
- Switch the water to cold. (Or, cool. It doesn't have to be frigidly cold, but it does have to feel like a contrast from the heat.) Shower under the cold water for 30 seconds.
- Go back to hot for 1 minute.
- Cold for 30 seconds.
- Hot for 1 minute.
- Cold for 30 seconds. Always end your shower on cold.
- Get out and dry off. Then, take a dry towel and roughly rub your skin, from ankles to the top of your legs, from wrists to the top of your arms, and both the front and back of your torso. This brings the blood to the surface of your skin one more time.
In my first year of school at NUNM, I remember being told about a research study that demonstrated the effectiveness of hydrotherapy in reducing the frequency and severity of colds. I've been referring to that study for 13 years, and I finally went and found it. (Here it is: https://www.physiotherapyjournal.com/article/S0031-9406(10)62176-1/pdf. Incidentally... this study also noted a significantly higher incidence of colds in people who said their stress level was high, compared to people who didn't experience high stress.)
6. Moderate exercise (not intense).
Take a walk, do some qigong or yoga, go swimming, take a bike ride, etc. Moderate exercise supports our well-being in numerous ways - and if you can combine it with fresh air and sunshine, it's even better! (Intense exercise can reduce immune function, though, so don't push yourself too long or too hard.(5))
Sunshine, as you probably are well aware, allows us to produce Vitamin D. And did you know that being barefoot on the earth also has documented health effects? Sometimes it seems funny to me that we need to research these things - but at the same time, it's cool to see them studied.(6)
Might I also invite you, with no research reference whatsoever, to take a deep breath, admire the living green and blooming and flying and crawling beings all around you, or lay your hands on a tree, or touch flowing water, and listen?
You literally have this health-promoting tool in your own hands, at all times. When we do self-massage on acupuncture points, we call it "acupressure."
There's an excellent combination of points, sometimes called "Miriam Lee's 10 Great Points," which is traditionally used to support the Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach and Spleen networks. These organ and channel networks govern resistance to external pathogens, breathing, digestion, and overall stamina.
For more about self-acupressure, join my email list and get access to my free "How to do Acupressure on Yourself" video.
8. External application of essential Oils.
I do NOT have a research study to support this. This is one of the things I do because it a) has a history of traditional use, b) subjectively makes me feel better (including by dilating and decongesting my lungs), c) makes intuitive and intellectual sense to me, and d) doesn't do any harm.
I wear under my nose or spread on my chest some combination of eucalyptus, thyme, and/or the conifer oils made by my friend at House of Aromatics. Some oils I can put straight on my skin without discomfort, but for the oils that create a burning feeling on the skin, I always dilute them in oil (usually olive), before applying them.
9. Nutritional and herbal support:
Many nutritional supplements and herbal medicines have been traditionally used (and some have been researched through modern scientific methods) for their antiviral properties and support for the immune system. I am not offering any recommendations in this article, although I can work with my established patients one-on-one.
If you would like to do some research of your own, or discuss herbs and supplements with your healthcare provider, you could consider: Vitamins C and D, Beta Carotene, zinc, and medicinal mushrooms (such as reishi and cordyceps).
That's the nine! I hope at least one of those feels helpful and doable for you. Please let this article serve you and not overwhelm you - remember that relaxation and laughter are at the top of the list!
If you like all or some of these ideas, you could print them out or write them down, and focus on one or two each day, as a gift to yourself.
Lastly, I want to share that I have been reading case studies and advice from doctors in China who have been successfully treating patients with COVID-19 using Chinese herbal formulas. As many of you know, herbal medicine has been used for people with acute illness, including epidemic illnesses, for centuries. I'm working to have herbal formulas available for my local, established patients (meaning, patients whom I have seen in person in my office, and are in the state of Utah). If you are not one of my established patients, I encourage you to reach out to your local licensed practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or naturopathic medicine to learn whether they have ways to support you if you are ill.