The below essay was written by Acupuncturist Jennifer Ward, LAc, in March 2020 - a time of unique stress and uncertainty. But in on a personal level, aren't we always experiencing unique stress and uncertainty. With the holidays approaching, office burnout peaking and "todo" lists never ending, we're republishing this piece as the lessons remain as relevant today.
Stress is an inevitable part of life. In fact, I speak to my patients and clients about stress in just about every appointment. I think wherever you are in the world, most have never had so much stress and anxiety as we experienced in the spring of 2020.
I had the incredible opportunity to spend a year working abroad. Although the year started off like a dream, it quickly became full of stress and decisions I never thought I'd need to make - do I stay or do I go? How do I care for my aging parents from halfway across the world?
The easiest decision I've had to make in the last month was a vow to my health.
Cooking every meal, no alcohol, no dairy, very little to no sugar, dark leafy greens, etc. I rushed to Wellness Pharmacy where each week I added a different prevention. I do not have access to Chinese Herbs as my supply dwindled and when I set off on this trip, I wasn’t expecting a pandemic. With so much internal turmoil I could not afford to allow my body to crash or my health to deteriorate.
Find the Root Imbalance to Boost Immunity
In this moment, I knew that it’s my clear mission to help others take in the inherent wisdom of their body. Listening to our bodies ensures a robust immune system. I made the time to be present and as a provider, I want to facilitate this for clients. South Africa, where I currently am in my journey, started a 21 day lock down on March 27. I realized my routines have gone out the window. Sound familiar?
With life changing minute by minute, I was thinking about what I would be talking to my patients about if I were still in the clinic and what conversations I have been having with remote clients.
The conversations are similar: immunity tips, recommending more sleep, eliminating alcohol, practicing mindfulness: stress, digestion and immunity. They are all interconnected.
In the last 10 years with patients and clients, I have focused on teaching them about addressing the root cause of our health imbalances. In Chinese Medicine we may say treat root or branch or both. In our current times, it’s about acting now and to address immunity stat. Ask yourself what you are willing to change? Can you take the time to recognize that your body is calling out? Given proper support, our body and our physiology knows how to protect us with the results of optimal health.
The body has a self-regulatory system. Sometimes we need to bolster it. Our digestion is our barometer for wellness. I have a unique perspective from both Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine systems. Both these ancient systems have wise wisdom for our modern lifestyles and that is strong immunity is the product of good digestion.
How to Build a Strong Immune System
We need a healthy diet and a supportive lifestyle but good digestion also includes a balanced nervous system. When we commit to managing stress and eating proper food, we flourish.
Managing stress is an important health topic in the news right now. Excess stress is detrimental to our immune response because stress hormones suppress the immune system. Instead, our vital reserves go towards survival. Right now it feels like most of us are overstimulated and this keeps us in the “fight or flight” state.
In this sympathetic nervous system reaction we can’t heal. This is one of the reasons I became an Acupuncturist as we are able to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system in treatments. Right now in the USA Acupuncturists are being advised to close their clinics. SO we need to take action steps now to create balance and it’s possible without acupuncture.
Create a Routine
Ayurveda recommends a daily routine for everyone. This is the first step to calm the nervous system. Did you know that simply by creating a daily routine we could mitigate stress? This gives our nervous system reassurance that we are taking care of our body, that we will have moments of ease and predictability, and helps reduce stress and preserve immune function.
One of the easiest to implement is to go to sleep and wake at the same time. Right now everyone is still adjusting to their stay at home schedule. Can you eat consistent meal times throughout the day?
A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Stress & Digestion
In Chinese Medicine stress has a direct effect on our digestive system: Spleen and Stomach system. If our food is not digested properly this can lead to “damp” in Chinese Medicine. In Chinese Medicine food is processed by the Stomach organ and divided in to pure and impure components. The stomach acid takes over the digestive process that begins in the mouth.
Then from there the Spleen organ transforms impure and pure to nutrients, energy, blood etc. These nutrients go to where they are needed in the body. Stress affects this system and when we can’t process, our appetite goes away, our cells do not get nutrients they need and our immunity suffers.
We can’t talk about digestion without the liver and the detoxification system. Liver helps to cleanse the blood and detoxify the body so we want to stay away from unnecessary intoxicants and chemicals. A unique aspect of the Liver in the body is we may see emotional health affect physical health. Irritability, frustration, aggression, impatience, stubbornness, and anger can affect this process.
Lastly, the intestines also play a role in dealing with waste. They need healthy cells and sufficient fiber. This is yet another way our body gives us clues.
7 Simple Ways to Boost Immunity
- Create a daily routine
- Consistent meal times
- Consistent bed and wake-up times
- Avoid sugar, dairy, gluten (damp foods)
- Minimize eating foods that are cold in temperature like salads, iced drinks, and smoothies (lots of "warming" recipes here on The Way!)
- Eat mindfully
- Emphasize cooked and easy to digest soups and stews
You may recall our Show us Your Tongue campaign last month. Your tongue can show a state of imbalance so I suggest looking at it daily. It should be pink and have a very thin coating. If there is a thick coating this is an imbalance and a sign digestion is off.
For example when sickness is coming there will be a thicker coating. When you see this imbalance, you can speak to your local Acupuncturist and if you do not have one reach out to us and we will refer you to one as during this time where Herbal Medicine is an answer to support your digestion and immunity.