I think by now we are fairly well versed in the nutritional approaches to support a healthy immune system. Bone broth, garlic, ginger, elderberry…. and it’s true! These things really do help us maintain a positive immune response when the body needs it most. In fact, if you want a refresh you can check my previous post here!
But I thought maybe we could look at other ways to keep our immune system running strong. I thought we could think outside of the box for a minute. You see, our diets are ever so important in our overall health. What we choose to eat day in and day out definitely makes a difference in our wellbeing, both in the short and the long term. But health is so much more than just diet. A person can eat all the right things in all of the moments, and yet if their life isn’t aligned with health their efforts can, and likely will, fall short.
What do I mean by aligning your life with health? This, to me, is the definition of holistic nutrition. Aligning your life with health means to consider all of the components of life. Food. Water. Movement. Breath. Sleep. Thought. Yes, I said thought.
Our thoughts influence our beliefs. Our thoughts influence our behaviors. Our thoughts influence our body. There have been many studies that have successfully connected our emotions to stress response and immune system. We know now that stress has a detrimental effect on the immune system, as can be seen in this study posted in the American Psychological Association. To take this a step further, HeartMath posted a study comparing the physiological and psychological effects of compassion and anger found that anger decreased the immune response for one to five hours after the occurrence. In contrast, feelings of compassion showed a positive boost in the immune system for a period of time after.
So let’s think about that for a minute! Each time we experience a challenging emotion, such as anger, our immune response suffers. And those effects can last for a few hours afterward. Now I want to clarify, challenging emotions have their place in our lives. Challenges lead to change, so they happen for a reason. Yet when our day is dominated by these challenging emotions, it becomes less about helpfulness and more about a hindrance! So if you find you are often feeling angry, frustrated, dissatisfied… what does this say about your immune system? I think it says your immune system needs a little love!
If you are familiar with the practice of mindfulness, the concept of compassion will be a familiar one. With mindfulness, it’s about accepting the moment as it is. To be present, you must accept what “is” in this very moment. Whether it is what we want or what we do not want, we accept it as something that just “is”. And in the next moment, it could be something different. Just as in the previous moment, it was something different as well. Compassion allows us to embrace that moment, complete with all of its struggles, and to embrace ourselves, complete with all of our perceived shortcomings, and just accept. This is a beautiful first step towards compassion. We often show others more compassion than we show ourselves, so this may feel a little awkward at first. But trust me, it does get easier over time.
The experience of compassion has a positive stimulating effect on our immune response. And really, given how hard our body and our immune system works to keep us strong, don’t you think it deserves a little compassion?
5 ways to practice compassion in your day
- 1. Talk to yourself as you would a loved one.
- 2. Practice random acts of kindness. It makes you feel as good as the person receiving it!
- 3. Try a compassion meditation, like this meditation here!
- 4. Set an intention to be self compassionate at the start of the day.
- 5. Choose a mantra. Simply focusing on the word “compassion” keeps the focus right where you want it to be.