How to manage your anxiety and boost your immune system during times of crisis

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Thu, Mar 26, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Very suddenly, our lives have changed, and uncertainty has swept over us. While it’s natural to feel worry, sadness, anger and fear, adopting tools to help cope with these emotions can be beneficial. As a plus, the same tools that improve your emotional well-being can also strengthen your immune system.

Utilize these tips to treat your body holistically and create a care plan that can make a difference to your overall health during difficult times.

Take a deep breath

The American Psychological Association reports that stress weakens the immune system, citing multiple studies released during the past 50 years. It goes on to state that one of the best things you can do to stay well is limit your personal stress. But what’s the best way to do that?

Whether it’s taking a walk, curling up with a book or spending time outdoors, we all participate in different activities for relief. But one practice that can combat stress in all individuals is deep breathing.

The American Institute of Stress reports that abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety by increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This creates a feeling of calm.

There are several breathing techniques geared toward decreasing anxiety, but belly breathing is one of the easiest.

Start by sitting upright in a comfortable position or lying flat. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Feel your belly start to inflate. Your chest should not move.

Breathe out through your mouth. Feel your belly push all the air out. Continue for 3 to 10 breaths, taking your time with each one. Pay attention to how you feel after.

Sleep

Ample sleep can help mitigate anxiety, but ironically, chronic worry can also prevent a good night’s rest. To make matters worse, research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that sleep deprivation doesn’t just exacerbate anxiety disorders—it can cause them as well.

And its effects aren’t just emotional. Lack of Zs cause your body to produce fewer cytokines, which are a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. This can have a variety of repercussions, even making the flu vaccine less effective, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

• The conclusion: We all need to prioritize sleep, especially right now.

• If situational anxiety is inhibiting your shut-eye, use these tips from the ADAA:

Make sleep a priority. Set aside seven to nine hours each night for uninterrupted sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, regardless of a changing work schedule or weekends.

• Establish a bedtime routine. Get into the habit of letting yourself wind down each night by reading a book, listening to relaxing music, taking a bath or meditating. Avoid stimulants and screen time for at least one hour prior to bedtime.

• Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. Some individuals sleep better with white noise machines or the sound of a fan blowing. Blackout curtains can also be beneficial to those who are light-sensitive.

• Use your bedroom only for sleeping. This room should be for relaxation, not for watching TV, scrolling through your phone or other activities.

• Don’t lie in bed too long. If you’re still struggling to fall asleep after 20 minutes, take a break. Get out of bed, keep the lights low and read a book or make tea. Once you start feeling sleepy, go back to bed and try again.

Eat well for your gut biome

The bacteria in your gut, also known as your gut biome, play a vital role within your body. They regulate digestion, anxiety and immunity, and if they aren’t functioning properly, they can wreak havoc. While many of us are living off pantry items right now, making an effort to support your gut biome with healthy eating will boost your mood and immune system. In addition to taking a daily probiotic and staying hydrated, here are foods that can help.

• Collagen: bone broth, salmon and collagen proteins

• Fiber-rich foods: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, oats, avocados, almonds, fruits and berries

• Probiotics and fermented food: High-quality yogurt and kefir are rich with probiotics, as are fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and miso. While some of us might have limited access to leafy greens and fresh fruits right now, fermented foods typically have a long shelf life.

Exercise

Daily movement is a key to overall healthfulness. It makes you happy, helps you sleep, supports your immune system and more. While going to the gym isn’t on the table for the time being, working out at home or outside is a great option. Go for a run, stream a yoga class or practice body-weight exercises such as planks, jumping jacks or squats. Raising your heart rate every day will do wonders for your state of mind, especially while cooped up at home.

Practice gratitude

Your perspective matters during difficult times, and finding gratitude wherever you can shapes how you experience adversity. If you’re feeling restless as a result of cabin fever, consider how fortunate you are to have digital connectivity, then FaceTime a friend. If you’re feeling fearful that you or your loved ones will get sick, give thanks to the health care workers showing up every day to care for the ill, and to all the individuals practicing social distancing to limit the spread of coronavirus. If you’re feeling lonely and overwhelmed, remember that we’re all in this together.

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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