Easy ways to boost your immune system
Updated: Mar 14
With the recent coronavirus outbreak, we’re facing a confusing time of uncertainty, and this can naturally cause us to feel stressed and anxious. A key thing to remember though, is that our immune system is connected to our nervous system, and our nervous system is disrupted by stress, anxiety, panic and worry. So by taking steps to reduce levels of stress and anxiety, we immediately help boost our immune system and protect ourselves.
How exactly does this work?
When we experience stress and anxiety, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and our breathing becomes shallow and rapid. This is our fight-or-flight response kicking into gear. Our body also produces the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your blood pressure and contributes even more to this state of high alert.
The other part of our nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest-and-digest state. This is activated when we feel calm and relaxed and is hugely beneficial for our wellbeing. Modern life has us spending a lot more time than is ideal in fight-or-flight mode, so knowing how to shift out of it and into rest-and-digest is key. Fortunately this is easy to do - we just need to know how!
Here are some simple ways to reduce stress and anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system:
Practice deep breathing. Breathing deeply into the belly is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, shifting the body from fight-or-fight mode into a state of calm. Simple breathing techniques to try might be breathing in for 4 and out for 6, or perhaps square breathing (in for 4, pause for 4, out for 4, pause for 4).
Take time to meditate. Meditation can be a great way of allowing the mind to slow down, and you can try guided meditations for free on apps such as Headspace and Calm. As counterintuitive as it may sound, simply taking time to do nothing can also be beneficial, giving you a chance you to slow down and rest.
Prioritise sleep. Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, dim the lights in the evening, and avoid screens for at least the hour before before you sleep. Be mindful of alcohol and caffeine intake too, as both can disrupt the amount and quality of sleep you get.
There are lots of other things we can do to boost our immunity too, and the stronger our immune system, the more protected we are from illness. Here are a few simple yet effective ideas:
Eat lots of fruit and veg. Healthy nutrient-rich foods are a key way to boost your immune system, so consciously choose to fuel your body well. Maintain a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg. If you're in need of recipe ideas, I often head to Deliciously Ella and Pick Up Limes for inspiration!
Move your body. Exercising regularly will help to reduce stress and keep your body healthy, as well as supporting mental wellbeing. If you have a job that doesn’t encourage movement as much, try to take regular breaks to move about when possible. Make it work for you and do what you can.
Spend time in nature. Getting outside offers so many benefits for our physical and mental health and really helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Even if it’s just a 10-minute walk or taking a different route to work through a park, it’s better than no time outside at all!
By looking after ourselves and others, we can navigate even the craziest of storms. So keep hold of that inner calm and do what you can to take some positive action. Remember the body is an amazing natural source of healing - don’t underestimate the benefits of looking after it!
For more information on COVID-19, please see the latest government guidance.