Naturopath Allison Sheppard who works between the UK and Gozo, shares her thoughts on how to care for ourselves, mind and body right now.
Navigating our way through a once in 100-year pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity for change. In a landscape where normal rules may not apply; we’re reminded of the simplicity of life and the need to find a new normal.
Care for ourselves, our family, our friends and our community require responsible action. Whilst there are many unknowns over the coming weeks, the need to invest in our physical and emotional health has never been more certain. The public health messaging around hygiene is clear, however, less emphasis has been placed on our mental hygiene. News headlines have been contributing to an unstoppable discourse of panic, fear and anxiety. Media motivates and demotivates in equal measure.
None of us have witnessed such collective sense of uncertainty in peacetime so it’s important to pause and take perspective. Taking one day at a time and being conscious to avoid projecting your current reality onto your future self should help. Be informed but not to the detriment of your health.
We are creatures of habit, By Design.
Our central nervous system responds best to routine so it’s little wonder many of us are feeling lost amidst so much unwanted adjustment. Our concept of time is likely to shift, so punctuating your day with routine should help foster a sense of normality.
I’ve had many people asking me what they need to eat or take in order to stay well, which is absolutely the right line of questioning, however, how we’re responding emotionally to this seismic shift is at the very least equally important. My own experience of working with clients over the years has left me with little doubt that it’s very difficult to improve health outcomes when stress is in the mix. As well-meaning as the mind is, it often takes us to places that aren’t that helpful.
The data is clear. Stress compromises the immune system and increases our susceptibility to infections. It’s time then to get back to basics. All of us have our breath. Just five, deep, slow breaths, whilst being conscious of our feet on the ground, can take our central nervous system out of the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ response and into the parasympathetic ‘resting and digesting’. Breathing in deeply with a longer out-breath simulates a nerve that travels from the brainstem to the digestive system called the vagus nerve. This vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system and helps regulate our heart rate. In other words, the biochemistry of being in the moment.
This too shall pass seems an appropriate mantra when we look to the weeks ahead. Already we’re hearing how communities are coming together, whether in person or remotely, humanity is in action. Kindness and compassion last way beyond the act themselves and includes caring for our own needs too. Self-care isn’t self-ish. We become a better friend, partner, parent and family member when we practice self-kindness and self- compassion.
In terms of our physical health, we’re all genetically and immunologically different. Some of us are more resilient to certain types of infections and others not. Now is the time for all of us to adopt a brightly coloured, nutrient-dense diet made up of real food not processed, long life alternatives. Fill 50% of your plate with a rich variety of vegetables. Mix things up by experimenting with types you’ve never tried before.
Onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, rosemary and oregano are great health allies when it comes to fighting infection. Vegetables equal fibre and are the food of choice for our gut bacteria. Fermented foods and probiotics benefit gut health, and its relationship to the immune system, but have limited effect without fibre. Hippocrates taught us that.
so what can we do?
When we’re unwell, our immune cells demand nearly double the amount of vitamin C. High dose IV Vitamin C has been used by the Chinese medical community as part of their protocol to manage coronavirus. Taking 2g a day can reduce the time we’re unwell and interestingly is the preventative daily dose suggested in China.
Zinc supports gut immunity and hinders a virus’s entry into the cell. Poultry, shellfish, nuts and seeds are great sources and there’s an argument for supplementation both as a preventative and to manage symptoms. The Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha has over 35 active compounds and has long been used to support both immunity and resilience to stress.
Movement is one of the simplest ways to support the immune system and manage your stress response. Being physically active encourages the release of a chemical messenger called Inter-leukin 7 (IL-7) which helps keep our thymus gland in shape. The thymus gland produces T cells, the immune systems ‘critical response team’, but as we age it gradually reduces in size. As well as improving the delivery of oxygenated blood and removal of metabolic waste, exercise slows this decline leaving our immune system better resourced.
Working out more isn’t necessarily better, exercising beyond your reserves places unwanted stress on your body which is counterproductive for your immune system. Exercising in open spaces may be less accessible for some, so make the most of your digital exercise community. The Department of Health recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or exercising vigorously for 75 minutes each week.
Sleep is fundamental to our emotional and physical health. There’s not a single organ system that doesn’t benefit from a good night and routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours demolishes the immune system. Make bedtime rituals a thing including reducing tech in the evening, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and if you can, enjoy a long bath with Epsom salt and a few drops of lavender oil.
Digital and App based therapeutics, including mindfulness, yoga and meditation, will provide a vital access point for overall wellbeing. If we strive to stay present and connected, with ourselves and each other, there’s real potential to create a blueprint for a more meaningful future with greater understanding of what’s important. Let’s all draw on Darwin over the coming weeks, ‘’it’s not the strongest nor the most intelligent’’ who will cope ‘’it’s the one most adaptable to change’’.
To contact Allison, head to her website here.