Yet what you eat is just one factor. Being physically active, meditating and managing stress, and getting adequate sleep help, too. Keep reading to find out why those habits boost your immunity and how you can take advantage of their benefits.
“[Exercise] also stimulates the production of endorphins — chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators,” Browning said.
For an at-home cardio workout, Browning recommends jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, burpees and switch jumps — during which you’ll jump to turn 180 degrees and then back again — for 15 seconds each. Then repeat the circuit five to 10 times, depending on what you can handle.
And don’t forget about the joy of dancing! My girls and I love blasting our favorite tunes and engaging in impromptu dance parties for a wonderful mood-lifting indoor activity, no equipment required. Try making up fun dance routines, or have someone play DJ and compete in “freeze dance.”
“Life is messy, and although meditation isn’t a cure all it can help us to remember to breathe and that we’ll never be able to clean it all up,” Gluck said.
To start meditating, simply bring your full attention to your breath. Sitting with uplifted posture may help, and eyes may be closed or open. When you notice your mind wanders with thoughts like, “What am I going to have for lunch?” come back to your breath without judgment.
Gluck says once you’ve been practicing for a while and have learned how to choose between your breath and your thoughts, you can “apply that same mechanism of choice to [your] response to stressful situations.” Most studies show you need to practice a minimum of 10 minutes a day for 8 to 10 weeks to see the benefits over time, Gluck added.
When meditating, it’s a good idea to aim for consistency when it comes to the style of meditation; the time of day and length of your practice; and your surroundings. You might choose your favorite spot on the couch or a designated corner with a meditation cushion, Gluck advised.
Additionally, when under stress, it’s not uncommon for people to engage in coping strategies such as drinking excessive alcohol, smoking cigarettes, eating a poor diet, or not getting enough sleep, which can also negatively impact the immune system, Forti added.
To calm our anxiety during this stressful time, first acknowledge that it is okay to feel stressed, anxious and afraid. “It is okay to feel panicked … look for ways to ground yourself in a safe and healthy way that does not cause harm to others,” Forti said.
Maintaining a sense of connection with friends and loved ones is important. Email, call or FaceTime relatives, and have live-streaming cocktail hours with friends, like my husband and I did this past Saturday evening. (Good news: You can responsibly “drink and Zoom.”) And children can benefit from staying connected, too. One of my mom friends recently organized a pajama party via Zoom for my daughter and her friends.
It’s also important to avoid judging your feelings and thoughts, Forti explained. Acknowledge them with a sense of care and appreciation, and release the expectation that things should be normal right now. For example, if you are feeling stressed about not fine-tuning the perfect homeschooling schedule or web-based activities for your children, that’s ok.
“Holding on to rigid patterns of thinking exacerbates stress and anxiety,” Forti said. “Flexibility is required during this time of uncertainty and rapid change.”
In my home, that means working with several interruptions, and allowing my girls to have some access to TikTok on my iPhone, along with some extra cookies.
For those experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety, it may be helpful to be mindful as you consume media updates. “Be aware of how the news affects you. Does it trigger your anxiety? Alternatively, does it make you feel safe because now you can choose what to do with that information?” Forti said. You may wish to ask a friend to keep you informed of major alerts so you do not have to check the media, Forti advised.
Don’t skimp on sleep
To keep your immune system strong, the NSF advises aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. But if your mind has been keeping you up or you simply can’t get that amount, fill in the gaps with naps.
According to the NSF, taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system. If that’s not realistic, a 20-minute catnap during a lunch break or before dinner can help too.
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, an author and a CNN health and nutrition contributor.