Do you always seem to catch the latest cold that’s going around your office or your kid’s school? Would you rather experience winter wellness than sickness? I hear you! I used to catch colds every winter too. One year I even succumbed to the H1N1 virus. I was so sick my husband actually thought I might die! It’s no joke when cold and flu viruses start to spread.
Luckily there are many things you can do to boost your immune system and create winter wellness. Your overall stress level, your hydration, the sleep you get (or don’t get), all play a big part in helping you embrace winter wellness. Immune-balancing foods, spices, and herbal remedies can all help promote winter wellness too.
And let’s not forget that your overall health starts in your gut. In fact, up to 80% of your immune system resides in your gut. So if your gut microbiome is out of whack, your immune system likely is too. A healthy gut generally equals a healthy body, and vice-versa.
What can you do to boost your winter wellness to stay healthy this season? In part 1 of this 2-part article we’ll cover four important immune boosters.
Stress is a biggie when it comes to how well your immune system works (1). According to the Cleveland Clinic, “stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes — the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses, including the common cold and cold sores.”
And the holidays are one of the most stressful times of the year. While you may love your extended family, let’s face it, it can also be stressful spending too much time with them, right? And the back-to-back parties and holiday events can really run you ragged. Then there is the added stress of holiday shopping combined with how to pay for all those gifts.
Gift-giving Sidebar: Remember less IS more. Give the gift of time with you, a home-cooked meal, or an amazing experience. Most people are trying to downsize and really don’t need more “stuff.” I LOVE the quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply so that others may simply live”, and I try to apply it to gift-giving as well.
The mind-body connection is very real, so the more stressed out you are, the more it will impact your immune system. Meditation is a fantastic way to help you unwind and de-stress. It’s super-easy and when you carve out just 15-20 minutes a day it can have a big impact on your overall health, wellness, and life (2).
Meditation has been scientifically proven to:
- Decrease heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline
- Strengthen immune system
- Decrease inflammation
Check out Deepak Chopra’s latest 21-day Guided Meditation series. It’s free, fun, and an easy way to help you destress and promote winter wellness. If you’d like to dive deeper into a meditation practice, my husband Kirk Hackler is a Primordial Sound Meditation teacher, and would love to teach you.
2. Stay Well Hydrated
Hydration is key to a healthy immune system. It’s also important for a variety of other reasons including lubing your joints to ward off degeneration, helping your body detox via the kidneys and liver, and helping your brain to function properly. Even the connective tissue fascia, encasing your muscles, relies on hydration to function properly (3). Did you know clumsiness is one of the first indicators of dehydration? When you’re dehydrated you might trip, or bump into the desk or wall as you walk. So it’s important to drink lots of water throughout the day (and not just coffee, tea, sodas, and alcohol.)
One of the first things that can happen as you become dehydrated, is that your mucosal lining inside your nose and mouth will start to dry out. (Remember that cotton-mouth feel after a long night of partying? Yeah, me neither!)
The mucosal lining in your nose acts as a protective barrier coating, catching viruses and bacteria and preventing them from entering your body. So if you’re dehydrated and that mucosal lining dries up, the inside of your nose can actually get tiny cracks or fissures in the skin. Once that happens, the door is wide-open for viruses and bacteria to enter your body. This is one of the biggest reasons people get sick after flying. The air in an airplane is extremely drying, not to mention recycled and germy. Once the inside of your nose is dried out and cracked, those recycled germs have a hay-day.
But you can easily prevent getting a dried out nose when you fly. My go-to products when I fly: I use a natural nasal spray and a soothing coating of Wild Rose Beauty Balm (or travel size) inside my nose when I fly, which really helps. Sometimes I re-apply it mid-flight, if I feel my nose starting to dry out. I also always have a water bottle with me to stay hydrated through out the day.
3. Get Enough Quality Sleep
We’ve all heard that we need to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. But sleep can often elude us. Are you too busy to get to bed on time? Spending too much time down that rabbit hole called Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest? Or do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? Sleep is the body’s time to repair and restore the immune system (4), so it’s vitally important.
According to ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, each Dosha has a specific time of the night. Ayurvedic doctor John Douillard (5) says: “the time between 10PM and 2AM is the pitta time of night when the liver becomes active and begins its evening detox cycle to prepare the body for the next day.” So if you’re not sleep by 10pm, you might well be missing out on some of the detoxing your body needs to boost your immune system.
Tips to help you fall asleep easier, or get a more restful night’s sleep:
- Blue light from LED screens has been shown to disrupt your melatonin and sleep patterns. So turn off all screen devices including TVs, phone, ipads, computers, etc. at least an hour before going to bed. But what will you DO during that hour of no screen time?! Meditate, take a warm bath or shower, read a book, play with your cat or dog… I’m sure you’ll think of something to do!
- If you must use a screen, set it to night-shift mode, or better yet, turn it to red-screen mode, which is less disruptive than blue light.
- Eat a kiwi or two before bed, or drink a shot of tart cherry juice. Both of these foods contain phytonutrients that help promote sleep.
- Drink a cup of camomile tea, or one of the many bedtime, sleepy-time teas available which may combine valerian, camomile, lemonbalm, passion flower, and other natural herbal plants that help promote sleep.
- Massage lavender essential oil into the bottoms of your feet, or use an essential oil pillow spray formulated to help you sleep, like NYR Organic Goodnight Pillow Mist.
- Drink most of your hydrating liquids during the day, tapering off towards evening. This can help you not have to get up to pee in the middle of the night. Once you’re awake, it can be hard to fall back asleep.
- Sleep research also suggests that sleeping with our pets is a no-no when it comes to quality sleep. I, however, disregard this one (everything in moderation!) Our cats love to cozy up in bed, and I think the cats’ purr (a healing vibrational frequency) actually help me sleep better!
4. Germ Busters
Just because you come in contact with a pathogen (virus or bacteria) doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily catch it. Doing the right things to naturally boost your immune system will go a long way towards helping your body fight off those germs. However, you can also do your part to help keep the germs at bay, (and not spread them if and when you do catch a bug.)
How can you be a germ buster?
- People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. And germs can enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth and make us sick. So be conscious of your behaviors, and try not to touch your face.
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Studies show (6) that washing your hands is the number one way to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. And to really be a germ buster, you need to wash your hands briskly for a minimum of 20-seconds. That’s about as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song—most people don’t wash their hands long enough. It’s the brisk rubbing your hands under running water that removes germs more than soap. So if you don’t have any soap, just rub those hands extra briskly. And avoid using the antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Those just dry your hands out and contribute to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.
- Not near any water to wash your hands? Don’t worry, use a natural spray hand cleaner like Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic Defense Hand Spray or make your own with this DIY hand cleaner recipe. They are both full of essential oils that kill germs on contact. Plus they smell delicious too! Keep one in your purse, car, desk, and kid’s backpacks for clean hands on the go. And once you’ve sprayed your hands, take a deep inhale and a few atomized particles of essential oils will infuse your nose and kill any bacteria on contact.
- Avoid shaking hands with people if you can help it. Ever notice how other cultures kiss each other on the cheek or air-kiss? Fewer germs are spread that way. They don’t go grabbing someone’s hand that they don’t even know, let alone where that hand has just been?! I don’t even want to think about it…yikes!
- If you do end up getting sick, be sure to sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm, NOT into your hand. School kids have been taught that for years now, but adults still sneeze or cough into their hand…then turn around and shake someone else’s hand, or grab a doorknob, or push that grocery cart… you get the picture. Also, if you catch a cold or flu, please STAY HOME from work. Going to work when you’re sick does nothing but spread germs, and no one wants that. (7)
While it can be beneficial to come into contact with some germs to help our immune system develop antibodies to fight off major illness, during cold and flu season I err on the side of doing everything I can to avoid those cold and flu germs. This includes always having my own pen with me, and not using pens in public places like banks, stores, etc. Pens are rife with germs. I also wash my hands (or use my natural hand cleaner) after using an ATM, pushing a shopping cart, touching a door handle, pumping gas, using someone else’s phone or keyboard, or riding the bus. This might seem a little OCD, but those are the places where cold and flu germs hang out most. And I rarely get sick.
Be sure to read Part Two of Winter Wellness Immune Boosting Tips where we cover the gut microbiome and immune system link; immune balancing foods, spices; and immune balancing herbal remedies. In the meantime, please leave a comment to let us know your favorite winter wellness or germ-busting tips. And please share with your friends and family so they can stay well this winter too.