Modern medicine focuses on cures, not on lifestyle interventions that can prevent many diseases depending on a healthy immune system. Let’s actively boost our immune system to overcome deadly pathogens, carcinogens and self-inflicted wounds driven by anxiety and stress. Let’s realize that our immune system is at the core of our wellbeing, regulating our organism’s response to infections, cancer and autoimmunity.
Basics of the Immune System
The immune system is a sophisticated set of proteins, cells, tissues and organs working together to protect any organism. Even trees have rudimentary immune systems! Although its main goal is to repel infections, it also plays a role patrolling and controlling cancer while potentially able to trigger autoimmune diseases.
The immune system consists of a number of important players, described as members of a detective task force in chapter 2 of the free kindle book Mindful Framing:
T Cells: These are the major orchestrators of all the components in the immune system. Some types of T cells are able to recognize infected and cancerous cells and directly kill or destroy them. Other T cells assist or regulate the activities of other immune cells.
B Cells: These cells play a major role in producing billions of antibodies, tiny molecules that are always on the look out for pathogens and unwanted cells. B cells play a crucial role in controlling infections by tagging pathogens and cancer cells to be recognized by macrophages, but can also generate antibodies causing autoimmune diseases.
Macrophages: These cells recognize pathogens or unwanted cells that need to be removed while interacting with T cells, informing them which cells are allies or enemies.
Natural Killer Cells: These are rapid-response cells able to kill infected and cancerous cells, like the T cells, but just relying on certain markers not requiring the intervention of other immune cells.
Age and the Immune System
The elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases, and unfortunately, more likely to die from them. This is because as we age, our immune system is less effective at combating infections, and less responsive to vaccines.
Why is this? As we age, the total number of T cells remain the same; however, the number of naïve T cells decrease. Naïve T cells are T cells that learn to recognize specific pathogens. They then develop into cells that are specialists in future encounters with those specific pathogens.
Additionally, senescent T cells, which are T cells that have deteriorated with age, are easily exhausted after becoming active and start producing inflammation-causing substances potentially leading to chronic systemic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis or lupus.
There also seems to be an association between nutrition and immunity in older individuals. The elderly can display micronutrient malnutrition, a form of malnutrition which occurs when one is deficient in various essential vitamins and minerals. This is because they tend to eat less and have a less diverse diet.
You can optimize your immune system by using these 4 infallible lifestyle interventions to boost its function:
Eat a healthy diet
There are many definitions of what a “healthy diet” is, but the general consensus is that it is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables and poor in processed foods. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, which can boost your immune function. In addition, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants which fight inflammation.
In particular, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that not only reduces disease-causing inflammation, but also boosts the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.
Likewise, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that aids in the destruction of free radicals. It also boosts the immune system in a number of ways. For instance, it promotes the production and coordinated function of T cells and B cells, and protects them from free radical damage. Lastly, vitamin C strengthens the skin barrier, preventing pathogens from entering the body in the first place. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, lemons, red peppers and other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that it increases the T cells ability to form an effective immune synapse. An effective immune synapse means having a close contact between immune system cells, essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. You can get Vitamin E from nuts, seeds, broccoli and spinach.
Having a balanced diet leads to a healthy gut, essential for a healthy immune system. That’s because the majority of your immune system resides in the gut, in fact, up to 80%.
In order to maintain a healthy gut, you need to maintain a good balance between the good bacteria, and the bad bacteria in your gut. One way you can do this is by consuming probiotics, either in supplement form or in food. Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables.
Another way in which you can improve your gut health is to avoid or limit your consumption of highly processed foods. This is because highly processed foods can cause inflammation of the gut.
Get enough sleep
We all know the importance of sleep for rejuvenating our mind and organism, but did you know that it can also boost our immune system?
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a reduction in immune function. For example, research has shown that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are more likely to have suffered a recent cold.
Why is this so? Well, in order for your T cells to destroy pathogens, they need to come in close contact with them. Sticky substances called integrins facilitate this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens.
Stress hormones make these integrins less sticky. When you get enough sleep, your stress hormones drop, causing the integrins to stick better. And when they’re stickier, your T cells are better able to adhere to pathogens, boosting your immunity.
In order to get enough sleep, it is critical to optimize your sleep environment. For instance, you’ll want to reduce your exposure to blue light from blue-light emitting devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. This is because blue light reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for good sleep.
You’ll also want to make sure your sleep environment is quiet, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you may want to wear earplugs, or turn on a white-out machine to drown out noise.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not too hot or too cold, as either factor can result in poor sleep. You can do this by wearing night wear that keeps you at a comfortable temperature, adjusting your thermostat accordingly, and using appropriate bedding.
Practice anxiety management
Anxiety and chronic stress affect not only your mind, but your immune system too. Chronic stress decreases the number of T cells and B cells. This in turn increases your risk for viral infections, such as colds and cold sores. Chronic stress also activates latent viruses, viruses which have been dormant in your body. The activation of latent viruses due to chronic stress causes wear and tear on your immune system, making it exhausted and “burnt out”, unable to deal with everyday assaults to your body. Lastly, chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, causing autoimmune diseases.
Due to the effect of chronic stress on the immune system, it is important to practice anxiety management. You can do this in a number of ways. One way is to practice mindfulness-based meditation. This lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn reduces inflammation. Mindful framing also achieves this effect by transforming your anxiety into vital energy while developing a mental framework focusing on connecting to nature, emotional intelligence and invigorating your organism. Practicing yoga also lowers your cortisol levels and relaxes your nervous system, thus reducing inflammation.
Besides practicing these mind-body activities, simply spending time in nature can boost your immune system. When you’re out in nature, the sounds, smells, and sights can also induce feelings of calm. Additionally, some research shows that phytoncide, an antibacterial substance released by trees, increases Natural Killer Cell activity. So, the next time you’re under stress, go for a walk and while you’re at it, practice some mindful framing.
Engage in regular exercise
You know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?’’. Well, that saying can also apply to exercise. In a study examining the effects of exercise on the immune system, participants who walked at least 20 minutes a day, a minimum of 5 days a week, had almost 50% less sick days than those who walked once a week or less. What’s more, when they did get sick, they were sick for a shorter period, and their symptoms were milder.
Engaging in regular exercise becomes even more important as you get older. That’s because research shows that exercise can increase the number of T cells, and even improve the response to vaccines in the elderly.
However, exercise intensity matters. You want to aim for moderate intensity exercise, not high intensity exercise. This is because engaging in prolonged high intensity exercise, without enough recovery time, may increase the risk of illness. So, go ahead and get some exercise, but try not to overdo it.
We live in an increasingly hostile environment to our bodies and minds, and despite many miracle therapies in today’s medicine, prevention is still better than cure. So, take the time to boost your immune system in a holistic manner. Your very life could depend on it.
Have you ever felt like a candle burning at both ends? Work and everyday life are increasingly demanding and with today’s 24/7 technology, the boundary between work and our personal lives is getting blurrier and blurrier. Compound that with a myriad of obligations and little or no time to relax and chill out, and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state in which you are emotionally, mentally, and often physically exhausted as a result of prolonged or repetitive stress. Though it’s often a result of work, it can also occur as a result of parenthood or caregiving.
Besides hectic work or taking on many responsibilities, other factors may lead to burnout. These include how you ‘live’ life, and how you ‘view’ life.
Classic signs of burnout include:
- Feeling exhausted most of the time
- Feeling like a failure
- Getting sick a lot
- Turning to unhealthy living, junk food, drugs, or alcohol to deal with life
Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t disappear by itself and if left untreated can result in chronic ailments like depression, diabetes and heart disease.
High functioning anxiety and burnout
About one in five people suffer from some form of anxiety condition. So, chances are that you know one of them; perhaps that person is you. Many people with anxiety suffer from what is termed “high functioning anxiety.”
Someone with high functioning anxiety can handle career and relationship obligations. However, their anxiety causes them a lot of emotional pain. So, they likely don’t require hospitalization for their anxiety, but it is distressing enough for them to be able to benefit from some sort of ongoing outpatient therapy.
People with high functioning anxiety have a myriad of symptoms that can lead to burnout. These include a need to constantly be busy, perfectionist tendencies, and not being able to say no to others. So, by treating the anxiety through modalities such as individual/group therapy, and medication, this not only helps manage the anxiety, but may also prevent burnout.
So, now that you know what burnout is and how detrimental it can be, how can you prevent it? Here are my 5 easy-to-implement ways to prevent burnout:
Deal with your emotions
Life is packed with emotional challenges. These include trying to keep up with the neighbours, the pressure to be successful in life and work, and the innate desire to have good personal relationships and a satisfying work life. It’s no wonder that we’re a ball of emotions.
However, from a young age, we’re taught to stuff and avoid our emotions rather than work with our emotions. This leads to the all too common “coping” mechanisms such as alcohol, prescription/recreational drug use, and being glued to our screens all in an effort to repress our emotions.
But, repressing our emotions isn’t good for us; in fact, symptoms such an anxiety and depression may be the result of repressing of our emotions. This is because when we try to repress our emotions, it causes emotional and physical stress. This leads to not only emotional problems but physical problems such as cardiovascular disease, intestinal disorders, headaches, and autoimmune disease.
We can learn to deal with our emotions by practicing mindfulness-based meditation. The practice of mindful framing teaches how create a mental framework to acknowledge and sit with our emotions, to feel them deeply, and to let them pass on their own, as all emotions do eventually do.
Embrace life-long learning
When we’re in a job that feels monotonous, we have little control over, or doesn’t align with our life purpose or in which we don’t receive recognition, it can lead to burnout. But you can take control of your career by finding opportunities to learn and prepare for a brighter future.
By embracing life-long learning you’re more in control of your career. This is because as you learn new skills, you can progress in your career or even switch careers if need be. Learning also helps you become more adaptable to change, which is a source of stress for many people.
It will help you be resilient when a project doesn’t go away, when your organization shifts gears, or if your job changes. Having a learning mindset will help you weather the storms of change, which is a constant in today’s work environment.
Pursue a hobby
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to pursue a hobby. This allows you to discover your creative side. When you focus on a hobby you are truly passionate about, you give your mind a break from your day-to-day stressors.
Ideally, you want to pursue some form of hobby that has nothing to do with work, or your stressor. You also want your hobby to be free of deadlines or rules in order to allow your mind to recharge.
What hobby you pursue depends on your interests. If you like writing, perhaps you can write a short story or even a memoir. If you like to work with your hands, gardening may be a good fit.
Pursuing a hobby is also a great way to amplify your life-learning goals. By engaging in something meaningful to you, and progressively learning, you further develop a sense of self-worth and competence, which may be lacking in other areas of your life.
Eat a balanced diet
When we’re under a lot of stress, good eating habits are often the first thing to go out the window; however, eating a balanced diet is even more important when we’re under stress. That’s because what you eat can significantly affect your mood and energy over the course of a day.
For instance, when you are under stress, you may turn to comfort foods such as French fries, pastries, or potato chips. Carbohydrates give us a sugar high, followed inevitably by a sugar crash in which our mood and energy crashes. Instead of food high in refined carbs, you want to focus on low-glycemic foods, which are foods that give you a constant stream of energy. These include foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
You also want to increase your intake of foods that contain omega-3s. Omega-3s are fats which help boost your mind. These include foods such as fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), flaxseed, and walnuts. Try and spread these foods over the course of your day. For instance, have some oatmeal sprinkled with ground flaxseed for breakfast, then for lunch, have a salad with walnuts, and for dinner have some salmon and vegetables. Or try intermittent fasting!
Get enough sleep
Not getting enough zzz’s is one of the risk factors that predicts burnout. So, it behooves you to get enough sleep. How much one needs varies from person to person, but in general you should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. You want to get enough sleep where you feel rested when you get up, and alert for most of the day. By getting enough sleep, your mood will also improve, further reducing symptoms associated with burnout.
To get a good night’s sleep it’s important to minimize distractions that prevent you from going to, and staying asleep. These include limiting your blue light exposure from devices such as televisions, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. That’s because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone.
You also want to make sure you sleep on a comfortable mattress, so you’re not tossing and turning during the night. Comfortable sleep wear is also beneficial as being either too hot or too cold at night can disrupt your sleep. By getting enough sleep you’ll be better able to handle the stresses of the day.
Life can get pretty stressful, and when that happens, you are more prone to burnout. Burnout has serious ramifications that impact your emotional and physical health. By learning how to prevent burnout from happening in the first place, you are creating a rock-solid platform to live your best life.
With so much going on in our hectic lives, is it wise to ‘waste’ time every day… sleeping? With so much anxiety, fear, loneliness and everything going on inside and around us, it can be hard to focus on a bedtime routine and improving our sleep. Let’s discover why quality is just as important as quantity for a sound and restorative sleep.
What is Sleep Quality?
- You spend a minimum of 85% of your bedtime asleep
- It takes you 30 minutes or less to fall asleep
- You don’t wake up more than once a night
- You don’t stay awake longer than 20 minutes when you do wake up in the middle of the night
- You feel rested when you wake up
Importance of Sleep Quality
Sleep can impact all areas of your life. For instance, after a poor night’s sleep, you may find yourself in a mental fog. This can lead to poor decision making, memory problems, and slower reaction times. This in turn makes you more prone to injuries and accidents, not to mention, poor performance for any task.
You’ll also find it harder to regulate negative emotions and stay calm under pressure.
Poor sleep quality also increases your risk for heart disease, depression, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers, and obesity.
Sleep Quality and Immunity
Do you want to boost your immunity? Improving your sleep quality is the right prescription!
Good sleep quality improves how well your T cells fight off infections. T cells are immune cells that fight pathogens in your body such as virus-infected cells and tumor cells. In order for your T cells to fight these pathogens and abnormal cells, they need to be in direct contact with them. Sticky molecules called integrins promote this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens and cells.
Cortisol, a key stress hormone, decreases the stickiness of these integrins. When you sleep well, your stress hormones fall, making the integrins stickier and T cells more effective, increasing your immunity.
There are 5 natural ways to improve sleep quality:
Exercise During the Day
Aerobic and cardio exercise are important for many aspects of health, including sleep quality. A study found that in patients with chronic insomnia, engaging in moderate aerobic exercise reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 55% and the total amount of nighttime wakefulness by 30%.
And you don’t need much aerobic exercise to sleep well. In fact, just 10 minutes of cardio exercise can dramatically improve your sleep quality. So, go for a walk or whatever gets your heart pumping.
Avoid Caffeine in the Evening
In order to sleep better, you want to watch your caffeinated beverage consumption. That’s because caffeine blocks the sleep-activating chemicals in your brain. This makes it harder for you to both fall and stay asleep. Furthermore, caffeine decreases your REM sleep, the part of your sleep cycle where you have the most restorative sleep.
And it takes time for caffeine to clear from your system. That’s because its half-life is 6 hours. So, it takes a full 24 hours to clear from your system completely. Ideally, you want to have your last cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage at least 6 hours before going to bed as studies show that consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed decreases sleep quality.
Avoid Blue Light at Night
Blue light has a big impact on your sleep quality. That is because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, a lot of our modern devices emit blue light. These include television, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Using these devices 2 hours before going to bed affects your sleep quality in several ways. It makes it harder to fall asleep and reduces the rejuvenating REM sleep phase, making you feeling less rested even after sufficient hours of sleep.
How can you limit your blue light exposure in the evening? I you can’t avoid watching your favorite show, sit as far away as possible from the TV and don’t try to sleep right away after turning it off, do some chores, read a book, take a walk or meditate…as possible to avoid the blue light emissions.
Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment plays a big role in how well you sleep. Too hot or too cold a sleep environment can affect your sleep quality. Ideally, you want your room to be at a temperature between 65 to 70°F. Find the right pajamas to find the right body temperature while sleeping. If your feet get cold, wear some socks.
Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress and pillow so that you’re not tossing and turning in the middle of the night. Additionally, you want your room to be quiet. If you live in an area where you have night-time traffic or loud neighbours, this can be easier said than done. In that case, you may want to invest in a good pair of ear plugs or use a white noise machine, even a fan can do the job.
Watch out for the humidity of your bedroom, particularly if you live in an arid environment. Dryness can cause headaches and sinus congestion, which may interfere with your sleep quality.
Follow a Bedtime Routine
While participating in high-energy activities just before bedtime decreases sleep quality, the opposite is true. Having a daily relaxing bedtime routine increases your sleep quality by signalling to your body that it’s time to sleep.
One of the best things you can do as part of your bedtime routine is meditate. In a 6-week study in which insomnia participants practiced mindfulness-based meditation, such as mindful framing, participants halved the amount of time it took them to fall asleep. In addition, at the end of the study, 60% of the participants no longer had insomnia.
You can also relax by having a warm bath, deep breathing, listening to some relaxing music, or a combination thereof. I avoid stressful activities such as watching news or engaging in difficult conversations. For my body, I don’t take any food or alcohol several hours before going to bed and have an Ayurvedic self-massage mixing myself body butter and ashwagandha fluid.
Once I’m in bed, I start clearing my mind, focusing on my 5 senses: how my skin touches the cotton of the sheets and my pyjamas, the sounds of white noise, the residual smell and taste and I watch the lights and forms appearing when I close my eyelids.
Let’s learn how to leverage our sleep as a powerful way to decompress and reduce our anxiety every night. By improving the quality of your sleep, you’ll be better equipped to handle life’s stressors with a source of unlimited energy and resilience.
Have you ever felt a magnetic pull to be out in the woods or simply stroll in a park nearby? Why is enjoying nature so important when you need vacation or just look for relaxation?
This the law of attraction to nature!
Let’s explore the major benefits of embedding yourself in nature, observing, being mindful of your surroundings… not just sitting while scrolling through inert bits and pieces! Research shows that connecting with nature can significantly boost your mental and physical health, even reduce your blood pressure up to 10%. It’s like a natural pill to boost your wellbeing!
Are your energy levels low? Well, it’s probably time for a nature break! According to a study, spending time in nature makes people feel invigorated, independently of the physical activity or social interactions.
How much time should you spend in nature to improve your energy levels? The magic number is 20 minutes, enough to significantly boost your energy levels. Improving your energy levels not only allows to you do the things you want to do, it also makes you less likely to get sick.
So, the next time you’re feeling sluggish, don’t instinctively grab a cup of coffee. Instead, go outdoors, just walk around, admire plants and trees or… sit on a bench and smell the roses!
Stress is a part of our everyday life, affecting our mental and physical health as well. It can make you engage in activities that increase your risk of heart disease such as smoking, eating too much or not engaging in regular physical activity.
Again, just 20 minutes a day connecting with nature can lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lower physical signs of stress such as muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate. Just sitting in natural environment, not even hiking or walking, will enable you to reap these benefits.
Why is connecting with nature helpful in reducing stress? According to the stress reduction theory, being in a natural environment helps us recover from stress. This is because peaceful natural settings led to favorable living conditions that improved the chances of survival. As a result, we innately respond seek contact with nature.
A recent study found that walking in urban parks can elevate your spirit to the same levels you might feel on Christmas eve. Research also shows that your risk for mood disorders, such as depression is lowered when you regularly spend time connecting with nature.
Why is that? If you are aware and present in a natural environment, you have less tendency to ruminate over the past or worry about the future, a common feature of depression and anxiety. Nature has a way of filling you with a sense of awe, feeling that you “are in the presence of something bigger than yourself.” This in turn makes your worries and cares pale in comparison.
What’s more, even seeing nature with your mind’s eye has these effects. Practicing mindful framing, which includes visualization of trees and natural landscapes, will have a positive effect on your mood and reduce your anxiety.
Improved cognitive performance
Do you find your attention waning after a couple of hours focused on a task? Well, that’s completely normal. In order to perform cognitive tasks including analyzing, planning and organizing information, we need to pay attention. When we are tired, or after significant and prolonged mental activity, our attention starts to wander and our cognitive performance decreases.
Being in nature allows our minds to rest and reset, thus restoring our attention. Just a couple seconds or minutes is enough. We don’t even have to be outdoors to have a more focused mind. Just looking outside a window, mindfully looking at tree branches, the color of its leaves, or listening and gazing at the birds will do the trick.
Improved sleep quality
After a poor night’s sleep, you may notice that you have trouble concentrating. You may also feel irritable. These may be temporary inconveniences at best. If you experience poor sleep on a regular basis; however, you are at increased risk of developing a number of medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and mood disorders. You are also more prone to die earlier. In fact, if you sleep 5 hours or less a night, your risk of dying from all causes increases by 15%.
Research shows that spending more time in nature can improve your sleep quality, particularly if you are over the age of 65. This effect is driven by resetting your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural clock, to a more natural sleep cycle. In today’s world, our circadian rhythm can be behind on average 2 hours, and this can wreak havoc on the quality of your sleep.
And you don’t have to necessarily spend time outside to reap the benefits of connecting with nature. Even just sleeping in a room with smells from essential oils, nature sounds, or a window showing a natural landscape can improve sleep quality.
Bringing all together
Try to find at least 2 hours per week to reap the mental and physical health benefits of nature. Ideally you should target an average of 20 minutes outdoors per day, truly being mindful or learning how to visualize nature while indoors.
If you live in a city, it will be tougher to carve out time to connect with nature. Do not give up, here some tips:
- Spend part of your lunch break taking a walk or just sitting by a tree
- Spend part of your weekend strolling in your neighbourhood park
- In summer, take a sandwich and go for a picnic
- When it’s time to go to bed, replace screen time with calming nature sounds or images
- Have some plants and pictures of nature at your home and office
- Be mindful of nature, connect using your 5 senses; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch
- Learn about forest bathing
Explore and connect with nature as a path to discover your true nature!
I will take you through an amazing visualization journey into your mind while teaching you the practice of Mindful Framing. You will learn a revolutionary approach to manage anxiety and stress through the creation of solid frames of mind leading to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing
SAND, Science And Non-Duality, is a yearly event bringing together some of the brightest minds in science, along with teachers from various traditions and artists, in a quest to expand and deepen our understanding and experience around the theme of empathy, relationships and mindfulness.