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I hope you’re doing okay whatever your current situation during this outbreak – whether you are stuck at home alone or with too many other people, or you're still having to go to work regularly, or whether you are in fact enjoying this enforced period of taking things more slowly.
Over the past few days, I’ve been asked a few times what the best measures are to support ourselves and our immune systems nutritionally during this time.
So I thought I would write it all down and share it with everyone. To be clear – this is not advice for those actually infected with the virus (in this case you should follow the advice of your Doctor!), and this is not advice intended to “boost” your immune system.
Really, it’s advice intended to nourish your body, soul and mind – helping you to function well during this very unusual situation.
For those of us working from home or self-isolating at home, it may be the first time in a long-time that we have a little more control over our routines. And I’m going to suggest that we all try and use that to implement NAP TIME!
Research shows that the immune system and sleep are interlinked . For example, many illnesses and infections result in an increased need for sleep  and good sleep may promote recovery . Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to have a negative effect on the immune system [1, 3] and to increase inflammation .
The opportunity to nap during the day may reduce fatigue and stress , although it’s important to limit nap times to 30-60 minutes so they don’t affect night-time sleep.
If you don’t have the luxury of napping then make sure you are going to bed early and getting plenty of sleep at night – which is the most beneficial type of sleep anyway.
Use the following tips to help you:
Avoid screens (especially social media and the news!) for at least one hour before bed
If you do have to use your laptop then install a blue light blocker like f.lux
Consider developing a relaxing bedtime routine – bath, foot rub, music, massages (self or with your partner), reading, colouring, drawing, knitting, herbal tea
Make sure your bedroom is completely dark at night and cool
Make sure you get daylight exposure as soon as possible after waking up
Try not to eat too late (preferably before 7pm) as food timing impacts your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) 
If you struggle with worries at night take some time to write down all your worries on paper at least 30 minutes before bed. For each worry ask yourself:
Is this happening right now? Is there anything I can do about it?
Where a worry is not yet happening or there is nothing you can do about it remind yourself: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of it’s strength”. By worrying you are not increasing your control over the situation – you are simply making yourself live through that worst case scenario over and over again.
Where a worry is happening and there is something you can do about it, make a plan of what you will do and when you will do it. Then remind yourself that it’s unlikely you can do anything about it at bedtime ;)
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, get up, go to a cozy corner of your house and read until you feel yourself falling asleep. Only then go back to bed.
Try the ‘paradoxical intention’ – tell yourself you don’t want to sleep and force yourself to keep your eyes open.
It doesn’t make sense to talk about sleep without talking about stress .
If you don’t manage stress during this tricky time you are unlikely to be able to sleep well. In fact, a friend recently told me that during a talk on sleep problems the speaker said that our body’s need for safety is greater than our need for sleep… so if we don’t help our body feel safe (in other words – if we don’t learn to activate our parasympathetic nervous system) we won’t be able to sleep.
The parasympathetic nervous system, also referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ state is activated when we feel relaxed and safe. Most of us operate in the sympathetic nervous system (or ‘fight or flight’ state) most of the time. Particularly during times full of such unprecedented uncertainty as these.
It is thought that stress has an impact on the immune system and research has shown that humans are more likely to be affected by viruses (such as herpes or influenza) when they are stressed . Stress hormones (glucocorticoids) can suppress or alter the function of the immune system – which generally is protective, but can mean you are more vulnerable to infection .
Use the tips below to activate the parasympathetic nervous system:
Do daily deep breathing exercises 
Set a timer for 1 minute, then try breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 1 and breathing out for a count of 5
Use a breathing app
Lie comfortably on your black, place your hands on either side of your ribcage, as you breathe in focus on feeling your hands moving apart, as you breathe out focus on your hands moving back together
Practice taking a few deep, conscious breaths before each meal
Spend time in nature : Spending time outdoors in nature and daylight has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Just remember to stay safe and not put others at risk!
Although many of us are staying indoors to protect ourselves and each other, many nature parks and spaces are still open for access (in fact in the UK the National Trust has made many of its areas free to access during the Coronavirus outbreak). Make sure to keep at least 1m distance between you and others, and wash your hands when you get home.
If you have a garden or balcony then spend as much time there as possible. Gardening is another activity that has been shown to reduce stress levels .
If you don’t have a garden or balcony and feel unsafe going outside, why not sit by your windows and look outside. Nature viewing also decreases stress levels .
Practice gratitude: in these confusing times it is easy to fall into a whole of self-pity. Cancellations, changes of plans, isolation, inconvenience, uncertainty all add into a sticky mix of discomfort and unhappiness. In these times it is especially important to connect with what we do have daily. Gratitude can help us to continue feeling connected, purposeful, have reduced levels of depression and to have a higher sense of wellbeing . It also makes us more likely to help others, which seems especially important in these crazy times!
Keep a gratitude journal of things you are grateful for, develop a routine of spending 5 minutes journaling by the window in the morning with a cup of herbal tea.
Practice expressing your gratitude towards others. To your spouse or friends for supporting you or for self-isolating with you. To your children for doing their schoolwork or spending ten minutes playing quietly. To your delivery man for continuing to work. To anyone you can think of.
In bed before going to sleep spend a few minutes thinking about what you are grateful for that day.
Treat yourself to a soak: magnesium salt baths (or foot baths) are a good way of relaxing and increasing your magnesium levels. Magnesium is an important nutrient (that you lose more of when stressed) that has been shown to contribute to stress and anxiety management [11,12].
Sugar and refined carbs
What we eat impacts our gut microbiota and our gut microbiota affect our immune system . In fact, having a diverse range of ‘friendly’ gut bacteria has been shown to lead to improved illness resilience and reduced likelihood of autoimmunity .
Sugar and refined carbohydrates have been linked with an increased likelihood of dysbiotic (or ‘bad’) bacteria that can lead to increases in inflammation and negatively impact the immune system .
Blood sugar spikes and dips increase stress levels, irritability and mood swings (read more about this in my book ‘7 days of being kinder’). Whilst we are all cooped up together at home or experiencing extra stress at work let’s not exacerbate this with our eating choices!
There is also old research to indicate that high glycemic index foods suppress the immune system (increasing your likelihood of getting ill) . More research is needed to verify this, but in the meantime, it won’t do any harm to switch sugar and refined carbs for some of the following:
Choose whole-grain pasta, bread, tortillas, rice etc.
Switch wheat pasta for buckwheat, lentil or chickpea options
Try dark rye bread or rye crispbread instead of rice cakes or normal toast
Make sure each meal and snack contains a source of fat and a source of protein
Switch biscuits for more nutritious options like:
Dates with peanut butter and cocoa powder
Dark chocolate and pistachios
Apple sauce with walnuts and cinnamon
Banana with nut butter
Frozen grapes and cashews
Home-made smoothies (try this blood sugar balancing recipe)
Home-made muffins (try these)
Don’t forget the fresh stuff
Whilst everyone has been rushing out to stock up on pantry staples don’t forget to buy fresh fruit and vegetables while you can! Anti-oxidants, fibre and vitamins found in fresh fruits and vegetables are so important during times of stress and to support your immune system .
If you have space in your freezer you may also want to buy some packs of (organic) frozen spinach and kale. These are wonderful, quick additions to stews, stir-fries, omelettes and smoothies.
Soak, soak, soak
Having said that – I’m quite aware that many of us will be more dependent on staples such as rice and beans over the next few weeks.
I encourage you to take some extra preparation steps to help your body with digestion and absorption of important nutrients:
Soak dried beans for 8-24 hours before cooking (depending on type), changing the water regularly
Before cooking thoroughly rinse the beans until they form no more foam
Soak your rice for a few hours before cooking, and wash it until the water runs clear before cooking
If you are having many more nuts and seeds you may also want to consider soaking these for a few hours (have a look at this article for soaking times)
So there you are. Just a few things to think about. But most of all – think about how you can make this time meaningful? How can you use this time of change to contribute more, connect more, learn more, rest more?
I would love to hear your thoughts! Connect with me on Instagram @efias_kitchen or Facebook @insideefiaskitchen.
Stay joyful and healthy,
 Bryant, P.A., Trinder, J. and Curtis, N., 2004. Sick and tired: does sleep have a vital role in the immune system?. Nature Reviews Immunology, 4(6), pp.457-467.
 Imeri, L. and Opp, M.R., 2009. How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(3), pp.199-210.
 Simpson, N., Haack, M. and Mullington, J.M., 2017. Sleep and immune regulation. In Sleep Disorders Medicine (pp. 195-203). Springer, New York, NY.
 Hsouna, H., Boukhris, O., Abdessalem, R., Trabelsi, K., Ammar, A., Shephard, R.J. and Chtourou, H., 2019. Effect of different nap opportunity durations on short-term maximal performance, attention, feelings, muscle soreness, fatigue, stress and sleep. Physiology & behavior, 211, p.112673.
 Dumbell, R., Matveeva, O. and Oster, H., 2016. Circadian clocks, stress, and immunity. Frontiers in endocrinology, 7, p.37.
 Glaser, R. and Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. eds., 2014. Handbook of human stress and immunity. Academic Press.
 Dumbell, R., Matveeva, O. and Oster, H., 2016. Circadian clocks, stress, and immunity. Frontiers in endocrinology, 7, p.37.
 Jerath, R., Edry, J.W., Barnes, V.A. and Jerath, V., 2006. Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical hypotheses, 67(3), pp.566-571.
 Kondo, M.C., Jacoby, S.F. and South, E.C., 2018. Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments. Health & place, 51, pp.136-150.
 Beaudoin, M.N. and Maki, K., 2020. Mindfulness in a Busy World: Lowering Barriers for Adults and Youth to Cultivate Focus, Emotional Peace, and Gratefulness. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
 Boyle, N.B., Lawton, C. and Dye, L., 2017. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress—a systematic review. Nutrients, 9(5), p.429.
 Seelig, M.S., 1994. Consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications (a review). Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 13(5), pp.429-446.
 Wypych, T.P., Marsland, B.J. and Ubags, N.D., 2017. The impact of diet on immunity and respiratory diseases. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 14(Supplement 5), pp.S339-S347.
 Fung, T.C., Olson, C.A. and Hsiao, E.Y., 2017. Interactions between the microbiota, immune and nervous systems in health and disease. Nature neuroscience, 20(2), p.145.
 Myles, I.A., 2014. Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutrition journal, 13(1), p.61.
 Gibson, Andrew, J. David Edgar, Charlotte E. Neville, Sarah ECM Gilchrist, Michelle C. McKinley, Chris C. Patterson, Ian S. Young, and Jayne V. Woodside. "Effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on immune function in older people: a randomized controlled trial." The American journal of clinical nutrition 96, no. 6 (2012): 1429-1436.
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