Boost Your Immune System and Calm Your Mind, Naturally
Written by Kelly Bruce, Certified Forest Therapy Guide
As we navigate the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Many factors are beyond our control, but there are simple measures we can take that are free and can be done at home to improve overall wellness and boost immunity. While there’s no magic pill or quick fix, there’s something very powerful called Vitamin N(ature) and it offers a variety of benefits.
Reducing stress and getting ample sleep are imperative to preparing our immune systems to defend our health and fight whatever bugs are going around, from the common cold to the flu and coronavirus. An abundance of scientific research indicates that being in nature helps lower blood pressure and stress hormones, reduces nervous system hyperactivity, enhances immune system function, increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety and improves overall mood. Spending time in nature deeply enhances wellbeing, creativity, happiness; it also provides tremendous immune-boosting qualities like reducing anxiety and increasing sleep duration.
As we self-isolate to reduce our exposure and prevent the spread of viruses, many are turning to technology and increasing screen time, binge-watching to pass the time, or worse, scrolling mindlessly through social media which often elevates anxiety and spreads misinformation. A recent study conducted by psychiatric unit researchers revealed that time in nature reduces feelings of isolation, promotes calm, and lifts patients’ mood. Take this time to put down the phone, turn off the TV and tune into nature.
Trees and plants offer incredible healing properties. In fact, they produce volatile organic compounds called phytoncides, their natural defense against disease, bacteria and parasites. We reap the rewards when we breathe in these organic compounds, which boost our natural killer (NK) cells – a type of white blood cell that helps boost immunity.
Our bodies need adequate vitamin D to produce the antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria. We produce it naturally when the sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate our skin, initiating a chain reaction converting a form of cholesterol into Vitamin D. By spending time outside, we soak up the sunshine and produce more Vitamin D which could help lower our risk for respiratory illness.
Your Nature Prescription
Ready for your daily dose of Vitamin N? Find a quiet place outside to sit and spend 30 minutes silently noticing the natural world around you. If you have some woods, a quiet park, or a forest near your house, wonderful! However, you can reap the rewards of nature in your own backyard, on your porch or apartment balcony. Gazing out the window at natural surroundings or the sky has healing, immune boosting qualities. As a last resort, viewing images of nature on your television, computer, or in the form of art sends pleasing messages to your brain, helping to calm the mind and reduce stress.
Begin by making yourself comfortable. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Slowly scan your entire body from the crown of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes, noticing any tension. Try to relax any tight muscles, unclench that jaw. Let go and release it. Feel the earth fully supporting you. As we explore our many senses, allow yourself permission to tune into anything you find pleasurable. Just be with it. Those that are in juxtaposition to the natural world are also part of the experience. Smile and let them flow into one ear and out the other, focusing on the pleasing sensations.
Notice how the sun and fresh air greet your skin. How does it feel? Take several deep, oxygen-rich breaths, inhaling for four seconds, and four seconds to exhale. Tilt your head back and inhale through your nose, as if you’re a wolf or a bear catching a scent. What do you smell and taste?
Tune into the sounds of nature, like a radio. Take several minutes to listen for both the loudest and faintest sounds. What do you hear?
Now slowly open your eyes and observe the natural elements that surround you. Take your time. What movement or colors stand out to you? What are you noticing?
After you’ve completed this sensory meditation, continue to sit quietly and observe your surroundings. Journal your thoughts, or share them with a friend or loved one. Aim to spend 30 minutes outdoors each day.
Kelly is a Certified Forest Therapy Guide in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Subscribe to our e-newsletter for more inspiration from nature and to learn about upcoming forest bathing walks.
Welcome! I'm Kelly Bruce, a certified nature and forest therapy guide. Join me each week for Wander and Wellness Wednesdays, where I provide inspiration to help you improve your overall wellbeing, naturally!