Editor’s note: This commentary is by Betsy Thomason, of West Townshend, a retired respiratory therapist who is the author of “Just Breathe Out—Using Your Breath to Create a New, Healthier You.”
I was born the day President Franklin Roosevelt died. Since then, I have never experienced a national or worldwide crisis. My 98-year-old West Townshend neighbor, Dick Jackson, who walks a mile up and down Windham Hill Road every day in all seasons — he’s the guy with the red jacket or T-shirt and ski poles — experienced the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II. The entire baby boomer generation, born after World War II, lacks Dick’s experience. “We will get through this crisis,” Dick says. “Life is about overcoming.”
Here’s my question: How can we overcome the sense of insecurity once masks and maybe even physical distancing are no longer required? How can we be confident that we will remain healthy?
Because I have not found much of this information in mainstream coronavirus commentary, I’m sharing my thoughts. For me, the emphasis is on what I can do every day to care for my precious body-mind-spirit to insure its well-being. Here’s what I’ve discovered over the years: The human immune system plays a significant role. It has become my best friend and subject of my learning.
What should we know about the human immune system? Unlike other body systems, such as the nervous, circulatory, and digestive systems, the immune system has no main location. In fact, every organ and system in the body plays a significant role in providing immunity from microbes that make us ill. Understanding the value of maintaining a healthy immune system is a key component to overcoming the gloom and doom imposed by coronavirus. With understanding comes commitment to self-care.
I am not an immunologist. I am a retired respiratory therapist, now a breathing trainer and writer, with a keen awareness of my own body and how to manage anxiety, fear, and pain with effective breathing — no drugs. My body is not perfect. Nobody’s is. Rather, mine is a body that receives my respect because it has helped me recover from so many adverse situations. Its ability to mend and maintain balance is worthy of my respect and praise. Learning how to support my immune system and doing my daily due diligence have been essential for me to enjoy my life.
This immune system commitment requires time and dedication. Everyone’s body is unique, so one answer is not the answer. There are many approaches. Here’s a starting point for study: Learn more about the importance of your gut and all the good microorganisms that reside there.
Supporting your immune system can be as simple as staying well hydrated — avoiding drinks with sugar and additives; preparing fresh meals for yourself and your family — avoiding thing in packages disguised as food; getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night — avoiding electronic stimulation for several hours prior to bedtime; walking and exercising every day — avoiding excuses that self-sabotage. You must believe that you are worthy of the time and effort self-care requires. Start slowly to prevent becoming overwhelmed.
Supporting your immune system can also be as complex as overcoming isms like workaholism, alcoholism, criticism, and especially racism. These isms create stress which tears apart individual immune systems, families, and communities, especially when ignored or treated as business as usual. Breathing, focused on the outbreath that is longer than the inbreath, is a tried and true means to achieve relaxation because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a drug-free, cost-effective way to manage anxiety, fear, pain, and stress. Seek help if you feel overwhelmed. We’re all human with foibles and frustrations. Remaining confident in your ability to navigate this topsy-turvy world is essential. To be resilient in this time of insecurity, do your homework.
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Educate yourself at your local library or from a trusted source. Learn all you can based on your health history. Then choose a few immediate approaches you wish to adopt and several long-term goals you wish to achieve, to create more body-mind-sprit harmony. Engage family and friends and have fun together. The human immune system thrives on joy. Go find it, within.