If you’re like most of us, burnout—the result of constant, unmanaged stress (also known as life in 2020!)—is wreaking havoc on your health, and, in turn, your immunity.
Not only are high levels of stress associated with depression and anxiety, but they can also decrease your body’s number of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off infection, which puts you more at risk for viruses. With stressors (think juggling remote work, virtual school, general pandemic stress, or any combination of the above) coming from every direction this year, it’s more important than ever to keep stress from getting the best of you—especially with the colder months coming up.
Of course, when your schedule is this jam-packed, it’s hard to justify taking the time out for any indulgent “me time.” But you don’t have to take a personal day to reboot—anything from watching a viral video to choosing the right snack can help take the edge off.
1. Hear us out: Make time to meditate at least once a day. Fight the urge to roll your eyes, and think of meditation as your daily brain break. Sure, finding zen is easier said than done. But people who practiced “mental silence” by focusing on the present significantly improved their stress levels compared to those who used a relaxation technique, according to research published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Not only will you get the short-term benefit of stress relief, but you’ll also help your immune system stay strong for the duration of cold and flu season. Meditation was also shown to increase the antibody response in people injected with the influenza vaccine, according to a study published in the journal OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine. Try downloading a meditation app and setting an alarm to practice once a day; you can start with just one minute and build from there.
2. Know that not all snacks are created equal. You probably know all about vitamin C’s immunity-boosting power this time of year, but protein often gets overlooked outside of its muscle-building benefits. “You need protein to create antibodies and cells that attack infections,” explains Acacia Wright, R.D., Nutrition Communications and Support Manager for Orgain. “If you don’t consume enough, you’ll manufacture fewer white blood cells to combat antigens, and your immune system won’t operate at full strength.” When that 3 p.m. slump hits, Wright suggests grabbing an Orgain Organic Nutrition Shake, which has 16 grams of clean protein—plus up to 21 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins D, C, E, and zinc—for a no-prep, ready-to-drink immunity supporter.
3. Go ahead, watch that viral video everyone’s talking about. Laughter is the best medicine, right? Science proves it: Watching funny videos, especially with other people, can significantly lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When researchers had two groups of study participants either watch funny videos together or sit silently (no talking, reading, or using cellphones), it was the humor group whose stress dropped significantly, according to a report in the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. You don’t even have to feel bad about falling down a TikTok rabbit hole; the study authors let the participants LOL for 20 whole minutes. Beyond the stress relief, a good laugh can actually release neuropeptides, AKA small proteins in your brain, that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
4. Break a sweat. It’s common knowledge we should take time to exercise for our general health and well-being (and swimsuit season), but the pandemic has made the act of going to the gym near impossible. Get creative, and get back to prioritizing activity, even if it’s just a walk. After four weeks of three 30-minute sweat sessions per week, previously inactive study participants reported greater feelings of well-being and decreasing feelings of stress and emotional exhaustion in findings published in the journal PeerJ. If taking 30 minutes out of your day still feels too overwhelming, don’t worry: Research has shown that short bursts of high-intensity interval training can be as effective as more traditional, hour-long workouts. Sprint-interval training—or one minute of super intense exercise within a 10-minute time frame—was found to improve cardiometabolic health in the same way as 50 minutes of endurance exercise, a study published in the journal PLOS One found. If you can find the time to do a couple 10-minute workouts throughout the day, even better. Then, reboot with a clean nutrition shake, like Orgain.
5. Write down your worries, then toss ‘em. Instead of scribbling an endless To-Do list—the sight of which might paralyze you from any kind of productivity—write a list of all the things that are stressing you out (the number of unread emails in your inbox is terrifying, you’re anxious about making a presentation to your boss over Zoom…). Then trash it. In an experiment published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that participants who wrote down their thoughts and then threw them out also mentally discarded those thoughts. P.S. It’s not enough to just imagine trashing stressors, the study authors wrote; it’s the performative action of literally throwing out any negativity that may be holding you back. Mentally shake off that weight and get on with your life!