Strengthen Your Immune System

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 14 Mar 2020

In the past few days, I’ve been getting a lot of texts and phone calls from clients who are worried about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and want to know, “What can I do? How can I help my immune system?” I am no physician, but as a psychotherapist who has studied the relationship between our minds and bodies for about forty years’ now, I have some suggestions for my clients that I’d like to share with you:

Fear and worry weaken your immune system. Being calm and relaxed strengthens it. So, during these uncertain times, do whatever you can do to remain as calm and relaxed as possible.

This may sound simplistic, but research shows it to be true. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by our bodies when we feel afraid and worried. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Your brain triggers its release in response to emergency situations.

However, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps: it typically contributes to depression, poor sleep, low energy, weight gain and high blood pressure. Prolonged and elevated levels of cortisol are not good for you.

In times like these, we need to take good care of ourselves (and each other) until the current global health crisis is resolved. Here are some suggestions to reduce your cortisol levels and strengthen your immune system:

Watch movies that cheer you or make you laugh.

Listen to music that makes you feel good.

Dance around the house (nobody’s watching).

Make good food for yourself: keep it healthy, but let yourself have some “fun” food too, like chocolate and a little wine or pasta. Allow yourself the little pleasures of life…your immune system will thank you.

Get exercise you’re comfortable with. It can be gym or a yoga class, go outside for a walk, or do some stretches in your living room. Google “yoga for the immune system” and do some simple poses. They can really calm you down (I know, I just did a few of them).

Read something that makes you feel good and safe: I have a few books that I re-read when I’m feeling scared or worried. They always lift my spirits and make me feel better.

Limit your exposure to social media and news outlets: you want to be aware but not overwhelmed.

And limit your exposure to people who tend to panic, overreact or love to create drama: this isn’t good for your immune system. If you must be around people like this (e.g., because you’re married to them), help them be as calm and relaxed as possible. Do things together that encourage that: one couple I know play board games to leave the outside world behind. Another couple find that walks with their dogs are the best things they can do to feel good. Friends of mine went out to the Anza Borrega desert yesterday because that makes them feel really calm. Whatever your preference, with your friends and lovers, help each other stay calm.

Decide how comfortable you are being around other people and do what works for you. Some of my clients prefer to do solitary activities at this time, others want to be around people. Some people are comfortable going to a gym, others aren’t. Trust your gut and do what works for you.

If you have a pet, spend more time with them than usual: both you and your pet will benefit.

Talk with your friends, especially the ones who help you stay calm. Knowing that you are not alone is a big help in times like these, when the coronavirus is such a huge unknown.

Make love and have good nurturing sex with a partner you know and feel safe with. This isn’t a good time for anonymous sex that can leave you scared and lonely. Enough said…

If you have hobbies, this is a great time to amp them up. I like gardening, painting with watercolors, reading, music, yoga, working out and hiking, so I have been doing more of each of these recently. I even went out in the gentle rain this morning to pull weeds. My neighbors may have thought I was crazy, but I enjoyed it (and the weeds came out easily too).

Anything that makes you feel better will strengthen your immune system: yesterday, I did laundry and thoroughly cleaned the kitchen because it makes me feel better to have those tasks done.

In these challenging times, you can help your immune system to be as strong and healthy as possible. I hope that the above suggestions bring you some calm and relaxation…and the lower cortisol levels that accompany them.