With so many uncertainties lingering in this new COVID-19 environment that the entire world is faced with, most people are feeling a heightened level of vulnerability to do everyday things that were once taken for granted. Picking up food and household items at the grocery store, going to the post office, dining out or even a family walk to the park spikes anxiety and fear of becoming another statistic of this viral-beast pandemic. For the 23.5 million people with autoimmune disease, the risk is of even greater concern, with many keeping completely quarantined to date.
Although numbers, information and directives on how to protect ourselves against COVID-19 change on a daily basis, there’s one thing that most experts seem to agree on: this virus is not going away any time soon, we are simply flattening the curve.
As businesses begin to open back up and people prepare to re-enter the workplace, they should not let their guard down. This is especially important for the most vulnerable, including those with autoimmunity (AI).
The following tips can help guard your immune system in preparation for returning to the workplace and the public forum in general.
Protecting Your Immune System When Going Back to Work in a COVID-19 Environment
1. Keep your gut healthy
The health and integrity of the intestinal barrier is vital for those with AI. If the intestinal barrier gets compromised, a broad variety of inflammatory antigens would be allowed to enter the system, potentially causing the immune system to respond and exacerbate autoimmunity.
In this current pandemic climate, there are multiple factors that can contribute to gut barrier integrity. Food choices can either help or hurt the gut barrier and, ultimately, the immune system. Inflammatory foods (processed foods) and immune reactive foods (gluten, dairy, sugars, etc.) can weaken the gut barrier, while healthy phytonutrient-rich foods can strengthen the gut barrier. The added benefit of this is that a healthy, nutrient-rich diet gives us ultimate brainpower, which I’m sure your boss or clients will appreciate!
2. Get good sleep
Exhaustion is a symptom of many autoimmune diseases. It is important to listen to your body. Our bodies heal, regulate and reset during sleep. Without adequate sleep, our bodies weaken and can break down, often leading to sickness, as you become more vulnerable to acquiring viruses and infections. COVID-19 can hit those with existing medical conditions extremely hard. AI can bring added complication to an already-tricky virus.
As you get back to the workplace and become exposed to others, you want to keep your immune system at its healthiest. Plus, a good night’s sleep generally yields a more productive worker. Conversely, it is also important not to lose sleep due to overworking. Have boundaries and know when to shut down your computer, for tomorrow will bring a boost in productivity with adequate sleep.
3. Relax your stress level
I won’t be unreasonable as to suggest eliminating stress, since that seems unrealistic in these unprecedented times. But try to take off the added edge through practicing yoga, meditation, warm baths or home Jacuzzi soaks. Try to avoid conversations that heighten your anxiety and stress as well. While social distancing, you might also try emotional distancing from any elements in your life that have a negative impact.
Also relative to the current situation, stress causes stress-eating (especially immune reactive foods) and excess alcohol consumption, which can also open up the tight junctions of the intestinal barrier, circling us back around to the first suggestion to keep your gut healthy.
4. Try to avoid exposure to harsh chemical cleaners
As we continue to hear the words, “wash for 20 seconds” and public businesses and retail stores are supplying hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes aplenty, we are walking a fine line between fighting this virus and our bodies turning on us by fighting their own cells. Through the overuse of antibacterials and other cleaning agents, we can alter the balance of our intestinal bacteria that has taken centuries to develop. Cyrex Labs offers the Array 14 – Mucosal Immune Reactivity Screen™ to test for possible outcomes of compromised immune tolerance such as intestinal barrier dysfunction, food and chemical immune reactivity and autoimmunity. This could be helpful if you suspect you have autoimmunity related to chemical exposure. In the meantime, try to use non-antibacterial soap and warm water to wash your hands using the 20-second suggestion. This is just as effective at killing bacteria.
The post-COVID environment is ripe for an uptick in autoimmunity due to broken barrier systems from all of the above, increased pathogen exposure and excess exposure to a variety of cleaning chemicals. It is more important than ever, in this environment, to nurture your immune system and do all that you can to keep it balanced.