There is heated debate (strange to describe anything that happens in Sweden as ‘heated’) about the Swedish government’s strategy concerning coronavirus. Here, ‘vi tar det lungt’ – we are taking it easy compared to our European neighbors. But this article is not about doubting or double-guessing. It is about the crucial thing which somehow seems to be overlooked in the current crisis. We don’t talk enough about building our immunity.
To be clear: I wholeheartedly believe that in these times we must follow the instructions of the government, at the very least, and perhaps take extra precautions if we can. But we can also do a lot more to help our society to overcome the coronavirus crisis. We can help each other, and there are great initiatives for that.
We can protect ourselves by having less contact with others, cancelling gatherings, washing hands, disinfecting (hard to do when ALL the disinfectants have been swept off the shelves and online stores are out of stock, but we do our best).
But building our own immunity against coronavirus should be much more in our headlines, as this is a measure we must take, not only for ourselves and our families but society as a whole.
The idea with building immunity, contrary to what we might sometimes think, is not that we DON’T get coronavirus. The idea is that we are likely to get it – and then it depends entirely on the magnificent, magical mechanism of our bodies what happens next.
If our immunity is strong and not burdened by anything else, it will recognize the invader at once – and will enthusiastically get down to the work of developing antibodies that will not allow coronavirus to do any damage. If our immunity system is not strong, or too busy taking care of other things, then this process will be, let’s say, a bit less enthusiastic – with potentially serious consequences.
There is no silver bullet, no magic pill – but there are many ways in which we can take care of our immune systems, and we probably know them already. This is the time to revise them and make some adjustments. They don’t have to be overwhelming.
You can take a little step at a time and see how it makes you feel. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. After all, our lives have changed already – and nothing will be quite the same again…
Get fresh air and exercise
This is one of the easiest places to start for many, especially in Sweden, especially when going to the gym is not a very attractive option or not an option at all. Think if we can ditch the gym, ditch the bus/metro and walk instead.
This is what my husband and I have been doing this week. My son’s preschool is a 45-minute hike around a bay, and as the weather is getting better, it was a great opportunity to take this brisk walk, up and down the hills, in the sun, both ways. It does wonders. I feel energized, I feel stronger, healthier, more optimistic (being out does wonder to prevent depression), and as a bonus, I get some extra time with my family. It also allowed us to bond with the local ducks, swans, and Canadian geese. Seriously, we started to recognize some of them, in all their incredible individuality.
There is nothing more important. You need quality sleep. I’m talking about at least 8-9 hours a night. Do you think that 9 hours is a luxury? That’s what we got used to thinking about our crazy urban lifestyles. But that’s what they are – crazy. And now in our partial lockdown due to coronavirus, we might want to rethink things a bit and take a chance to claim back some sanity into our lives. Today, sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and more than that: it is our responsibility as citizens, as it is central to increase our immunity. So stop scrolling the headlines, switch off the mobile and go to sleep.
De-stress and be present
There is only one rule: No scrolling. When you lie on the couch, you lie on the couch. It means you are not scrolling. Not scrolling headlines on your phone. Not scrolling scenarios in your head.
Please don’t underestimate this. Biologically, we have a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The former is needed for hunting down food and running away from danger. The latter – for restoring our bodies’ resources. The two release completely different sets of hormones into the body. Evolutionary, our ancestors only spent a fraction of time running after deer or running away from tigers. The rest of the time they used to restore. Shall we say, 10% of activity and 90% of rest?
Now, the issue is that today we keep running away from tigers and hunting deer in our minds the whole time, even when we are physically resting. But our bodies do not know the difference.
So scrolling through headlines and scenarios, worrying and beating ourselves up, all of that means that our sympathetic systems are activated pretty much round the clock. It wears us out, brings our natural immune guard down. It damages us.
The solution is effectiveness and awareness. Do what you have to do, tackle the problems, solve the issues during the designated time – and then rest. And resting may imply cooking, eating, washing dishes, folding laundry – but all of that can be done with awareness. Awareness means no scrolling, in our heads, of headlines, scenarios, and past mistakes.
Awareness means being here and now, which allows us to fold the laundry while folding laundry, talking to a friend while talking to a friend, and feeling fully relaxed. The sympathetic system is ‘chilling’. No adrenaline or cortisol released into our bloodstream.
Staying updated is essential, but spending hours on reading or listening about the coronavirus is stressful.
Solution: decide that you will get updates to say once or twice a day, designate those times and limit them to a certain amount of time. That’s it. This also limits you to a number of well-chosen sources which you need to think through in advance.
This doesn’t mean looking for some ‘special ingredients’. A lot of articles will tell you to eat this or that fruit, vegetable, spice. It’s all fine but sometimes it sounds like magical thinking. The bottom line is simple: as little processed foods as possible – and there are reasons for that.
You can begin to cut out or at least significantly reduce one or two ingredients which you know are not good. Sugar is a good place to start, but it can be something else. It’s not about feeling guilty – it’s about feeling good and staying healthy.
Good news: with many places closed and reduced working hours due to coronavirus, for many of us grabbing something unhealthy on the go is not an option and not a necessity – when else to cook nourishing food at home if not now? There is a lot written on eating healthy diets, and I am not referring to a specific source because I believe it is very individual. This is the time to explore! 🙂
Detox your skincare (men and women alike)
We sometimes forget that it’s not only what we eat, but also what our bathroom shelves contain that may overload our immune system.
There is a very simple clean-up that may help in the short, but especially in the long run: avoid phthalates and parabens.
Phthalates are in everything with a strong smell (perfume, nail polish which also uses deadly formaldehyde, and laundry detergent), and parabens are used as preservatives in most industrial cosmetics. Why you may benefit from cutting them out, read here.
Luckily, these days in Sweden you can get anything fragrance-free, and parabens are also easily avoided, as there are masses of much higher quality products without them (some of them inexpensive). The good news is also that you don’t need to give up nail polish as there are brands that don’t use phthalates or formaldehyde.
As for perfume… I must admit I have a hard time thinking of binning my favorite limited edition Kenzo, a gift from my niece… I have decided that I will not buy myself another perfume, and have asked everyone not to give me any.
There are of course natural perfumes available, but I haven’t really found anything yet that I would truly like, but I hope it’s waiting for me around the corner. And there is that rose oil I brought from Egypt which is phenomenal and plays the perfume’s function just perfectly – but I must say I haven’t found anything like it anywhere else. (And I get a bit tired of smelling like a rose every day.)
At times like these, many of us go into a survival mode. Especially the introverts among us – we literally have an urge to shut down, disappear, freeze, play dead. However, connecting with others boosts our self-esteem and gives us optimism and psychological well-being which is extremely important for immunity. Going beyond the needs of our own and those who are dependent on us gives us a sense of connection to a larger community.
So this is a good time to pick up the phone and call relatives and friends who you haven’t been in touch with for a while, maybe in other parts of the country or the world, and ask how they are. Perhaps starting with the older ones, who may be more isolated than usual, and perhaps worrying about falling sick?
Here is a simple checklist that you can follow.
- Think of a time when you can be outdoors, every day. Take your diary and schedule it. Treat it as an essential appointment.
- Put a reminder on your phone which will tell you to wind down in the evening.
- Schedule in recreation: absolute, perfect leisure. At least two hours a day.
- Decide which sources you will look at for news about coronavirus, and schedule a limited time once or twice a day when you are going to consult them. Resist the temptation at all other times. When something pops up in your inbox, say: I’ll read this at 17.45 (or whatever time you scheduled).
- Ever thought of a meditation app? Good time to try. I used to scorn them, but I got one about six months back. I am positively shocked at the difference it has made for me (I admit, I’m a little addicted to it).
- Think of one change you can make in your diet which would feel nice. Implement that, and if it works well, think of one more.
- Look at your bathroom shelves and into your drawers and see if you can replace some of the items with paraben- and phthalate-free alternatives.
- Make a list of people you haven’t been in touch with, and contact them. If you are an introvert, like me, one person a day is enough! 🙂
I don’t want to underestimate the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis. I am by no means taking it lightly. Dire as things are though, let’s try to think of this crisis as an opportunity to make changes to our lives which we have felt were needed. Small changes, one at a time. Hopefully, we will re-emerge on the other side of this tunnel, after holding our breath for so long, wiser, humbler, healthier, more resilient, and more compassionate to ourselves and others – as a human race.
Do you have other tips/ suggestions? Please, comment below 😉