It's been a long minute since I got sick (touch wood). With winter right around the corner, I thought it'd be an ideal time to go over the practices that have helped me stay healthy during the coldest and wettest months of the year and throughout. You'd think it's close to a miracle that I haven't gotten as much as a slight sniffle through all the craziness of the past year and added stress (or when Flo gets a cold and literally coughs in my mouth accidentally), but I don't think it is! I take deliberate action to stay healthy and it seems to work. At least for me. Here's what I do.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP This one I'm putting first because it's often overlooked yet SO VITAL to a well functioning body and mind. Do you know how many hours of sleep you're averaging a night? We all go through times when we can't sleep very well-- we're human, it happens. However, if you're making it a habit to go to bed late and on top of that rise early, you're not doing yourself any favours. My aim is to get 8 hours of sleep a night, but usually I'll be ok with 6-7, minimum. If I notice I'm getting any less than that, I make adjustments, though it's hard to make adjustments if you're not aware of your sleeping patterns in the first place. I use a fitbit to track my sleep and I highly recommend.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY Have you eaten? Do you need to tinkle? When was the last time you drank something that wasn't coffee? Our bodies are talking to us all day; an incredibly intelligent machine programmed to give us cues to keep us alive and well. It tells us when it needs food, when it wants a break, when it wants to move and stretch. And what do we do with that valuable information? Well, we tend to ignore it. As a result, we suffer the side effects of a poor diet, overtired bodies, and feeling like a potato. Your body is talking to you all day. Listen to it, promptly.
COLD SHOWERS I think this is arguably the biggest reason why my immune system is as solid as it is. There is conflicting evidence about the effects of cold showers on the immune system, but I'm definitely drinking the kool-aid even it's placebo. I've made it a point to take cold showers over the last few years, however during 2020 I amped it up and didn't go more than 2-3 days a week without ending my showers with freezing water. The time will range anywhere between 10 slow seconds to a minute, but typically about 30 seconds.
VERSATILE, NUTRITIOUS DIET Ok, I'm not really one to speak about an overly versatile diet (those who know me know that I like what I like lol) but it is something that I try to be mindful of. On a weekly basis, I try to get enough leafy greens and veg, proteins, good fats, grains, legumes, and fruit & I minimise my intake of dairy products. Also, WATER.
FRESH AIR & SUNLIGHT Over the last few months I'd fallen off this wagon a bit, but in the thick of lockdown last year and for a large portion of 2020 I was visiting my local creek almost every day with Flo & Sasha. I really believe all that forest bathing was a huge contributor to our sense of well being during some of the toughest months. More recently, I've started taking consistent walks again that are about 20 minutes long and even though it's just around the neighbourhood, I can already feel the difference in my mood. Mood contributes to your sense of well being which affects your immune system. I suggest taking walks in the morning so you can get that sunlight in, but even getting fresh air at night is better than nothing.
STAY (mindfully) CONNECTED I'm not talking about 9 hours of screen time a day on your phone. I'm talking about actual phone conversations, FaceTime, Zoom sessions and face to face hangs with the people you love. It's super easy to slip into periods of isolation when we feel bombarded by work and overwhelmed by life, but it's especially during these times that it's most important to reach out to your friends and family. Normalise seeking support without feeling embarrassed... we ALL need it from time to time, especially after what has been a collective traumatic experience that is still ongoing. If we feel supported and connected to those we love, we will feel better. The better we feel, the stronger our immune systems.
BREATHING EXERCISES I've been dabbling in and practicing yoga since I was a teenager but have only made my practice more consistent over the last five years. If I had to choose the most important thing that yoga has taught me, it's to pay attention to my breathing. Ever noticed that when you're stressed, you tend to be short of breath? Sometimes I realise while I'm in a yoga pose that I'm actually holding my breath, and then I wonder how many times I unconsciously just hold my breath throughout the day and fuck my life up, lol. If I'm feeling stressed, my go-to is box breathing, but there are lots of different breathing exercises you can practice regularly that help stabilise your nervous system and also help with immunity.
MINIMISE DRUGS & ALCOHOL I say minimise because I know saying cut them out is probably too much for some of y'all, lol. This is such a given though. Most drugs and alcohol are terrible for you, especially if used consistently in the long term. I am personally HUGE on moderation (this is partly because as a wee lass I did not practice moderation and my life was fkn trashed) and think anything done to an extreme is not good or healthy. Small habits add up, so if you think drinking a cold beer after work every day is nothing, imagine 20 years down the line when you've drank a beer after work every day for that long. Eek. Your body is an incredible, fleshy, beautiful machine... treat it as such.
VITAMINS & HERBAL TEAS This is probably something I stay the least on top of but I do think it's worth mentioning too as I have both semi-regularly and it probably helps to a degree. Typically I will take immunity supplements, vitamin D, zinc, & fish oil. For my herbal teas, mainly I drink skullcap, green tea, ginger tea, holy basil, rose and lavender tea, and fennel tea. I love tea!!!!!! (Side note, coffee will basically give me an anxiety attack so tea is the way for me lol. Totally get it if tea isn't your thing.)
EXERCISE Prioritising getting our bodies moving is essential, especially in the midst of collective trauma. We all know the benefits of staying active, not only for our bodies but for our minds too, yet it's so easy to forget how important it is and neglect ourselves. I know that when I'm not moving enough, I start feeling like absolute shit all around. If you haven't moved your body for ages, feeling like shit might have become your norm but it's never too late to get back on track. If you're tight on budget or time, think about the places you could walk to instead of driving. Maybe you can start going for walks with your kids or get a cheap bike from FB marketplace for local errands. Whatever you choose, know that moving your body will help you feel so much better. It's totally worth the effort.
Disclaimer! I'm not a doctor and can only recommend these practices from personal experience. I live in Australia where Covid-19 has thankfully been taken very seriously and cases have been low compared to the rest of the world. If you are able to get a covid-19 or flu vaccine then please do AS WELL as take part in these healthy practices. Use common sense and see a doctor if you're feeling ill.