Self-care is something you hear about almost daily now; people asking you about what you do for self-care or wildly encouraging you to take part in self-care activities. While self-care is definitely important for many reasons there is one that often trumps the others, especially now. Self-care, believe it or not, is crucial for the health of your immune system.
To understand how self-care benefits your immune system, let’s first look at what suppresses the immune system. Our immune systems are affected by several things, both environmental and internal. Lack of sleep, anxiety, low vitamin D, certain medications, a lack of nutrient-dense foods, a high (bad) fat diet, and lack of exercise all can have a part in suppressing your immune system. What does that have to do with self-care? A lot actually.
While the pampering aspect of self-care is nice, the bubble baths and trips to the beach, the whole idea behind self-care is that you’re making sure you take time out of your day on a regular basis, to take care of you. That doesn’t always have to involve some lavish experience. Self-care can be taking a nap when you have an extra-long day. It can mean choosing a salad over the nice greasy burger you really want because you know you haven’t made the best food choices lately and your body needs a few extra veggies. Self-care is saying no to an event you would normally say yes to just because you felt guilty. Self-care is taking a walk outside to catch a little bit of sun as the seasons change. Self-care is also waking up early in the morning so you can get a workout in because you know your body needs it and your stress levels are better when your body gets more movement. It can be pushing through your to-do list when all you want to do is relax, because you know you need to get it done and not getting it done means you’re going to be stressed out until it gets done.
Increased stress levels, lack of sleep, vitamin deficiencies, overwhelm, and lack of movement can all increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is an important hormone that is released in response to stress, and while it can be beneficial in small amounts, maintaining high levels of cortisol chronically can suppress the immune system and lead to widespread inflammation. This not only increases your chances of catching common infections, but also puts you at risk for developing autoimmune conditions.
Regular self-care practices can decrease these cortisol levels, giving your body a break from this inflammatory response and leading to a healthier, more balanced immune system. So, while self-care can definitely involve a nice mani and pedi, treating yourself to an outfit you’ve been wanting, or a spa day, it’s also taking care of your body’s needs that all-too-often get overlooked in the hustle of day to day life. It’s getting enough sleep, and eating fruits and vegetables as often as possible to keep your nutrients up. It’s getting fresh air and sunlight as often as possible, moving your body as often as you can, and knowing when you have too much on your plate so you don’t overwork and exhaust yourself. All of these things help your immune system to stay strong and protect you. What have you done lately to take care of yourself and keep your immune system strong?