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7 Ways to Strengthen Your Immunity to Fight COVID-19

Posted by on April 30, 2020 in Books, Healing & Natural Remedies, Health, Prevention with 0 Comments

By Paul Napper and Anthony Rao

The top priority right now is keeping yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy throughout the pandemic. Beyond practicing social distancing, there are other measures to take that will have a protective, positive impact.

(Note: If you have a medical condition, reach out to your primary care physician or immunology specialist for specific guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis.)

Because the brain and immune system are linked, it’s important to lower your stress. When stress is low, you are better protected from many types of diseases. What’s the best way to keep your stress in check? Adding more yoga, mindfulness, and meditation might come to mind, but have you thought about your state of mind? How you perceive stress can be a powerful ally in your efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus.

When you view stress as a challenge you can adapt to—potentially helping you become more emotionally resilient—you maintain a healthier immune response. Here are seven ways to get started:

  1. Accept that stress is part of being alive and human. Teach this to your children. Normalize the idea that we all have stress. Talk about this with your spouse, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Stop reflexively thinking that all stress is harmful.
  2. Stop ruminating about the stress you experience. By all means, identify the stress but don’t overthink it. Don’t allow your imagination to run wild and generate worst-case scenarios. When you envision extreme (and often unlikely) negative future possibilities, you trigger automatic mechanisms throughout your body, including the release of two stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. You will, in effect, be putting yourself on biological high alert. This drains your body of the resources it needs to stay healthy over the long haul. Chronic, obsessive worry about COVID-19 will compromise your immunity, increase agitation and fatigue, and create an overall malaise that can lead to the development of disorders like anxiety and depression.
  3. Work at adopting a positive stress mindset. Beyond accepting that stress is a part of being human, go one step further. Accept that stress can be good for you. Sound ridiculous? Researchers have shown that when you grab hold of stress early—when you acknowledge it openly and even welcome it—you take the lead, as opposed to feeling like a victim. You are determining, to some extent, how your body will interpret and respond to that stress. A positive stress mindset leads to resilience, while a negative mindset (fear, rumination, worry, and hopelessness) leads to the release of damaging stress hormones that compromise your immunity.
  4. Use active coping. Don’t avoid conflict, fear, or challenges that come your way; instead, approach them directly. This includes acknowledging and expressing emotions with the people around you. Tell others what’s on your mind and what you need. Don’t hold it all in. For short-fuse types who have no trouble saying what’s on their mind, maybe you can dial it back a bit. Watch out for accidentally spreading your anxiety, fear, and pessimism to others. Strong emotions are highly contagious, especially in crisis situations.
  5. Control stimulation. Start by controlling the flood of information that’s ubiquitous in the digital age. Pull back on screentime when you can. Your mind needs a break from all the high-speed, emotionally charged images and sounds. If your home or apartment gets crowded and noisy while sheltering in place with others, designate a quiet spot to retreat to. This will help you maintain a calm, clear mind. Overstimulation (such as noise) has been shown to adversely affect the brain and body, including lowering immunological defenses.
  6. Maintain health basics. Sleep, rest, and proper nutrition all support optimal brain and physical functioning. Getting plenty of time outdoors, walking, and regular exercise are foundational to your health and boosting immunity. Use movement as a tool to channel the adrenaline that builds up in your body. The more you are worried or stressed, the more adrenaline is released. Don’t stew in negative emotions, especially anxiety. Instead, move your body. Immediately stand up to release tensions. Stretch, get outside, take a few breaths of fresh air, take a walk, or run. Any form of movement helps. Remind yourself that you aren’t stuck or trapped. You always have a choice to move, no matter how small (a breath or simple stretch) or large (running, yoga, a bike ride, or calisthenics).
  7. Find your agency. Agency is the power to take control of what you can, and to make thoughtful decisions. In our clinical and consulting work, people with higher levels of agency were less anxious and more confident despite the challenging situations they faced. From our research, there are specific practices that high-functioning people typically use to be more effective agents in their own lives (see the chart below or learn more at our website).

Together, these tips will cut back your stress, boost your immune response, and ultimately help you through the coronavirus crisis and chaos.

*  *  *

PAUL NAPPER, Psy.D., is a leading psychology and leadership consultant. His client list includes Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, universities, and start-ups, and he has held an advanced fellowship during a three-year academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

 

ANTHONY RAO, Ph.D., is a cognitive-behavioral therapist. For over 20 years, he was a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. In 1998, he opened a specialized private practice. He appears regularly as an expert commentator.

 

Their new book is The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms.

Learn more at PowerOfAgency.com.

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