Digestion, Mood, Mindfulness & Immunity
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Digestion, Mood, Mindfulness and Immunity
by Tiffany Harris
“You can’t control what goes on outside, but you CAN control what goes on inside” (unknown).
During this unique global moment, it is evermore clear we cannot control external forces – what happens out there. Never has it been more evident that what we do for ourselves, we do for one another. While we collaborate, as a human race - by home sheltering and making healthy choices - the onus is on every person to engage in self-care. It is important to remember that wellness is a holistic state of being which calls upon mind-body synergy. Simple daily choices genuinely impact what is going on inside each of us. Immune systems can be bolstered with a three-prong approach focusing on gut health, mood stability and overall mindfulness.
Did you know that seventy percent of your immune system cells are encased within the wall houses of your gut? It may also surprise you to learn that your gut and brain are the only two organs in your body with their own nervous system. Often called the second brain, your gut produces the vast majority of the feel-good chemical serotonin. The simplest way to maintain a healthy digestive system is to eat a variety of real foods (if your ancestors would recognize it, it’s food). A predominance of vegetables and fruit in your diet, flanked by healthy fats, lean or plant-based proteins and whole grains is a sensible rule of thumb for wellness. Processed foods, sugar and alcohol cause inflammation in the body and tax the gut. Also note that if you are feeling ill you can conserve digestive energy by choosing foods which are partially predigested (cooked vegetables rather than raw; fruits/nuts masticated by a blender or juicer). If you have consumed antibiotics within the last 6-12 months, consider taking probiotics to restore the good bacteria in the gut. Knowing how to enhance healing through food is empowering.
It is important to acknowledge chronic stress and prolonged depression burden the digestive system and therefore compromise the integrity of the gut. The rapid lifestyle changes brought about by COVID-19 have undoubtedly created a loss experience for many of us. While grief is a normal and natural response to change, it is not to be ignored. In the midst of experiences like alien grocery trips, sudden home schooling, unexpected furloughs, high stakes medical decisions, separation from loved ones or LACK of separation from loved ones – remember joy is still available in any given moment, and life is a conglomeration of these memories, strung together like pictures. Neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, wrote “the last of human freedoms (is) the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Home sheltering can serve as a reset opportunity – a time to evaluate daily habits of thinking and doing. As you plan your weeks, make time for things like meditative walks, creative cooking, FaceTime social gatherings or thoughtful doorstep gifts for neighbors. Be sure to reach out to a counselor if you are concerned about your experience of anxiety, depression or despair. Telemental health sessions are readily available. Make happiness a priority and improve your health as you do so.
Have you ever driven an all-too-familiar commute and realized that you hardly remember the details of the trek? When we engage with life at high speed and on auto pilot, we forfeit the depth of our interactions, observations and experiences. Practicing mindfulness allows us to be in tune with our bodily norms, deeply listen to others, and promptly identify that which seems off in the various realms of our lives. Take the time to look someone in the eye when they are speaking to you. Try a meditation app, tune in for online yoga or simply put your bare feet on grass as you observe your own breath patterns. When we genuinely engage with humans and events, we are more satiated by the encounters. Mindful eating is another way to be more connected – in this case, to the food you are consuming. Putting your fork down between bites and chewing slowly not only enhances the sensory experience, it also gives enzymes time to do their job. After all, digestion begins the moment your saliva and food come into contact. In short: thoughtful eating aids digestion, breath work eases stress, yoga can release emotion, meditation calms the brain, human connection increases happiness and body awareness allows us to promptly notice the needs of the body. Mindfulness is a power play for immune system optimization.
Self Care is Altruistic
We cannot control what is going on outside, but we can lend aid by nurturing what is going on inside. Healthy digestion, mood stabilization and mindfulness work together to enrich overall wellness. Eat like you value your body, engage in joyful moments and slow down to witness the life you are living. As we claim stewardship over our own emotional and physical well-being we contribute to the health of the human race. Truly, self-care is altruistic.
Read more on gut health here.