During lockdown, people are enjoying spending more time with family, seeing communities come together in new ways, or just getting some DIY jobs ticked off the list.
However, Coronavirus has made many of us anxious at some point or another. For some people, the idea of returning to 'normal' might seem even scarier. Some people may feel particularly worried about reconnecting. For example, people with social anxiety might experience heightened concern about the prospect of socialising again.
Meanwhile, people who fear germs, such as some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), might worry about re-entering public spaces. Even people who don't usually have these tendencies might share similar worries. One survey found around half of us is at least moderately concerned about becoming infected with COVID-19.
And all of this additional stress and worry has an impact on our gut and our immune system. May 29th is World Digestive Health Day, and many scientists are only just discovering the key to good health is actually through the gut.
What's fascinating is the mind-body connection.
Have you ever had a "gut-wrenching" experience? Do certain situations make you "feel nauseous"? Have you ever felt "butterflies" in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, happiness — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as an anxious mind can send messages to the gut.
It is challenging to try to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion. Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation. You might feel intestinal pain during times of stress, or just feel exhausted coping with the stress of isolation during a pandemic.
Gut problems and stress
So, if you've felt "butterflies" in your stomach, or if you've ever had your stomach so tied up in knots that you could barely eat, you know precisely how your gut and brain interact when you're stressed.
And it's the same for your everyday life.
Just think about ALL the things that stress you out daily...
Worrying about bills
Getting in an argument with a loved one
Feeling isolated from friends and family
Your spouse and/or kids not cleaning up when they're supposed to
Hating your job and wishing you didn't have to work there
And a million other things that annoy you on any given day
Believe it or not, all these small stressors add up and
Kill good bacteria
Lower nutrient absorption
Suppress your immune system.
As you can see, there's a war inside your gut. You have a choice to stop it, achieve a body you love, and boost your immune system. Yay. Because when you have a happy, healthy and finely tuned gut microbiome...Bloating...Indigestion...Embarrassing gas...Constipation and diarrhoea...all fade away so you can enjoy a more joyful life without constantly worrying about your immune system and whether it's protecting you from a bacterial infection.
That's why I'd like to offer you 3 easy tips to boost your gut health and boost your immune system, so can you feel much better, calmer, and have more energy too.
There is an overwhelming number of experts, or food guru's telling you something to eat/not eat and making diets very complicated. But it doesn't need to be.
Keeping it simple, eating whole foods and finding out what works best for you and your lifestyle is all the healthy eating advice you need. What works for you might not work for someone else, so see your body as your friend and work together to tune in, listen and give it what it needs.
When something doesn't feel good like your tummy feels bloated or gassy, you have food cravings or low energy, your body is sending you a message so you can adjust your food choices accordingly.
Immune Booster #1: Adding key foods to your diet
Whole foods – are an enormous key as well as the missing puzzle piece to wellness. The majority of food in the Western World is processed, laden with chemicals or GMO's, These chemicals impact the viability of nutritious food as well as our bodies in a negative way. GMO's compromise nutrition for the sake of perishability. Ultimately, food is your bodies fuel and medicine - it nourishes you and gives you energy.
Eat the Rainbow – variety in colour ensures you get a variety of essential vitamins and minerals too. This may be a big leap for some. Look at the colours you are eating and choose one hue you are missing. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables not only grow healthy gut bacteria, but they also help balance high oestrogen levels. Fruit helps with sugar cravings too.
Kale and other green leafy vegetables – Green veg reduce mucous and clear congestion, strengthening the respiratory system and boosting the immune system. They help to regulate good bacteria and keep the gut healthy.
Fermented foods to help rebalance gut bacteria and increase bacteria diversity.
Garlic – is the world oldest medicine, and its smell gives it its healing properties. It's antibacterial, antifungal, and helps build immunity.
Healthy Fats – not all fats are bad, Omega 3 fats, for example, prevent inflammation and disease and are utilised by the body for energy. Healthy fats improve digestion and strengthen your immune system so it can fight off harmful bacteria more efficiently. Try adding more flax oil, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and wild salmon to your diet.
Immune Booster #2: Reduce stress
If you're like me, stress hits my digestion first and flares up my IBS. Life is stressful right now, and it can feel like you're trying to hit a moving target if you're trying to reduce it. As we both know, you can't remove stress from your life by snapping your fingers and making it go away. As much as I wish I could at times like these, but I'd be giving you false hope if I said that was the case.
But I have found three main ways to help you keep stress from controlling your life.
Sleep - While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like cytokines. It uses these substances to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Not getting enough sleep prevents the body from strengthening the immune system and producing more cytokines and white blood cells to fight infection. This can mean a person can take longer to recover from illness as well as having an increased risk of chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease. Cytokines also help you sleep, giving your immune system more energy to defend your body against illness.
Exercise-The body loves movement. During lockdown I have been doing lots of walking. Walking supports your health in every sense — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It's also free! Usually, I would be able to go to the gym and mix it up a bit, but there's plenty you can do at home, from yoga and Pilates to PE with Joe Wicks.
Meditations and Affirmations - meditation is well known for reducing stress both in the short and long term. And when you combine it with affirmations, it helps rewire your subconscious brain to work WITH you (instead of against you) in achieving your goals. Your brain responds to your beliefs and thought patterns. And every time you beat yourself up by looking in the mirror, your mind is listening. So please be kind to yourself, it helps lower stress.
There are dozens of other ways to control stress, of course. But these are the three I've found to be most effective, as well as journals which we discuss in the final tip.
Immune Booster #3: Tune in to your body
Keep a food journal – most people eat without awareness, so a journal helps us to listen to our bodies and the signals it's sending us. Keep it simple and non-scientific! Simply write down what you ate, how it made you feel and any cravings you had. Look for any patterns and then introduce small changes The key is to ADD foods in and not take away. You can still enjoy your favourite foods but ADD in some gut friendly ones along the way too. Be guided by your body. If you listen, it will tell you what's best to eat that day, that season or at that moment.
Slow down and eat mindfully –When you feel stressed, the "fight or flight" response kicks in. This response is designed to prevent us from burning calories and fat, and even having healthy digestion. Why? Because when a tiger is chasing after you, you need all your energy for quick thinking and fleeing. Eating fast can also trigger a stress response. When your mind isn't focused on your food, your stomach and brain don't have the chance to register that you have eaten. This can lead to overeating, weight gain and digestive issues. So slow, down, stop and breathe before you eat, eat without distractions (surfing, reading, streaming) and chew thoroughly.
Indulge all the senses - close your eyes and try to silence your mind – focus on your breathing and take a few deep breaths to relax the body before you begin your food. Inhale the wonderful aromas of a home-cooked meal, fresh bread, or garlic prawns! Explore the visual appearance of your food, look closely and deeply at your food as you eat. Explore how your food feels; it's texture and shapes. Take a bite and chew slowly. Chew your food at least 50 times and notice all the flavours.
If you combine these three, you'll have everything you need to rebalance your gut, boost your immune system, and FEEL BETTER.
Did you know regular Reflexology sessions can strengthen your immune system and reduce stress and anxiety too? Schedule an appointment online.
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