While a global pandemic is certainly not something to celebrate, I am particularly appreciative for the profound insight it has given me about the importance of prioritizing my health and well-being with more fervor than ever before. Being forced to slow down and look within has inspired me to make significant changes in my daily habits so that I can live a life that’s more congruent with my values and truly enjoy my days.
And so, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of my favorite insights and strategies for supporting our wellness and reclaiming our zest for life during these unprecedented times.
1. Embrace the Power of Intention
Sheltering in place can have a way of making time feel meaningless and vague—like nothing is moving forward and each day is just more of the same. Forming intentions and goals reestablishes a sense of purpose, helps you savor the now, and gives you something to look forward to. Here are a few examples of worthy intentions, along with the goals and specific actions that could help you accomplish them:
Intention: Feel like my best self
- Pause and soak up these rare moments with my loved ones.
- Reset my body by doing a cleanse.
- Find a new type of movement I love, and exercise at least three hours a week.
- Revamp my diet by eliminating processed foods.
- Limit TV and internet time and focus more on reading or personal projects.
- Learn a new language or skill online.
- Discover my love for music again.
Intention: Feel connected to my spirit and to others
- Mediate for 10-20 minutes daily.
- Get lost in the moment with nothing to do but spend time with my immediate family.
- Begin a journaling practice.
- Attend an online yoga class every week.
- Reach out by phone, text, or video chat to those who matter most in my life.
- Distribute notes to my neighbors offering to help with shopping if they need it.
- Spend time in nature while maintaining social distance by eating lunch outdoors and taking daily neighborhood walks.
- Give back by donating to my favorite charity.
An overhaul of your diet may feel like a daunting commitment when just getting any groceries has become an ordeal, but being home also gives you the opportunity and the time to become a creative and inspired cook with the healthy staples that make it to your kitchen—an unexpected silver lining!
Ideally, real eating means consuming only whole foods in their natural state (such as apples, broccoli, or yams) and cooking from scratch. While it’s more time consuming, it’s also more rewarding on many fronts...and batch cooking can really help improve the practicality factor. When shopping online—or if you can safely get to the grocery store—look for ingredient lists that contain only whole, non-GMO, and preferably organic foods...and absolutely nothing you can’t identify.
As much as we’re all craving comfort foods, It’s especially important not to sabotage your nutritional efforts (and your immune function!) with sugary sweets at this time. Be on the lookout as well for hidden sugar, which seems to sneak into all kinds of foods including ketchup, fruit spreads, yogurt, and cereals. Even certain plant based milks or yogurts labeled “plain” or “original flavor” often have added sugar! To complicate matters, sugar isn’t even always called sugar on the label. Some of the other names it goes by include dextrose, sucrose, corn syrup, fructose, and evaporated cane juice.3. Prioritize Your Gut Health
Since 80% of our immune system cells are located in the gut, caring for your digestive and microbial health is one of the kindest and most basic things you can do to support your overall health during this time—and the relationship between the gut and your other bodily systems is so strong that almost any positive lifestyle change will end up benefiting your microbiome. This means just about anything that’s good for you physically or emotionally falls under the umbrella of gut TLC!
That said, here are a few ways to more directly show your gut some love:
• Eat lots of plant foods. Research shows that what we eat produces profound gut microbial changes—and the consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased volume and diversity of helpful probiotic strains in the digestive tract.1
• Avoid junk foods. Processed and refined foods loaded with sugar, unhealthy fats, antibiotic residues, GMOs, and artificial additives harm and lower the numbers of friendly gut flora necessary for proper digestion and health.2
• Reinforce the troops. Supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic such as PRO-15 introduces some of the most helpful bacterial species in existence to your personal microbial army. For extra immune support during these uncertain times, it’s helpful to also include a tailored formula like Immune Defense or Hyperbiotics Immune.
• Nourish your gut bugs. Living probiotics need prebiotic fiber (found in many plant foods) to really thrive. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to get enough prebiotics in your diet. Stirring an organic prebiotic powder into your favorite soft foods and smoothies helps your probiotic friends to stay well fed and healthy so they can return the favor by keeping you at the top of your game.
4. Create an Active Lifestyle
Our bodies were designed to move, so if you can resist that powerful urge to just plant yourself on the sofa for the next few weeks, you’ll be really glad you did. Active movement can inspire feelings of playfulness, exhilaration, and vitality—qualities which may be in dangerously short supply right now. And regular exercise also benefits the heart, muscles, bones, and immune system to help you stay healthy through this ordeal.3,4,5
But the gifts of exercise go even farther—all the way down to the gut level, as well as all the way up to the brain. Active folks tend to have more beneficial gut bacteria than those who are inactive, and exercising moderately improves mood, reduces stress, and can even keep your brain young by increasing hippocampus size and improving memory.6
To get moving:
• Love what you do. Choose an exercise you can do at home or in your yard that you’ll look forward to—whether it’s online aerobics, Zoom pilates classes, rebounding, or just dancing wildly in your kitchen to your favorite tunes. Even walking around the neighborhood regularly while maintaining social distance will do your mind and body a world of good.
• Pick a daily exercise time. Carving out a specific time for movement makes you less likely to forget to exercise, or find excuses not to.
• Enlist a buddy. The buddy system is tough during social distancing, but it’s worth pursuing. Knowing someone you care about is looking forward to exercising with you at an online class or via video chat is great motivation to keep your commitment to an active lifestyle.
5. Slow Down
It’s surprising how being home all day can still leave you feeling rushed and stressed, and that isn’t a good thing for anyone. Stress flat out doesn’t feel good, but that’s not the worst of it—chronic stress wreaks havoc on the gut microbiome by reducing numbers of beneficial flora, restricting blood flow to the immune system (most of which resides in the gut), and making the digestive tract more permeable.7,8
That’s why when you slow down and de-stress, your nervous system can relax and your mind and body will thank you. Here are some effective de-stressing strategies as we shelter in place:
• It’s OK to close your door. Being home with the family puts privacy at a premium, and sometimes you may need to close a door and claim a little personal space for a while. Setting respectful boundaries helps the whole family keep getting along smoothly.
• Take periodic mini breaks when working. It’s especially easy to forget to take a break when you’re working from home. Every 15 minutes, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. And whenever you can, stand up, stretch, and yawn—or even take a short walk.
• Prioritize sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to handle stressful times gracefully, and also damages the microbiome (which in turn makes you more prone to stress reactivity!). 9,10,11 There’s nothing on your to-do list more important than getting a good night’s sleep.
• Schedule regular downtime. Plan for at least an hour a day of quiet, connected activities like reading, journaling, or snuggling up with your significant other or kids.
• Try meditative movement. Practices such as yoga, Qigong, or Tai Chi are wonderfully de-stressing. There are plenty of online workouts available to get you started and keep things interesting.
• Incorporate magnesium. Magnesium is a miracle mineral that works to relax muscles, relieve tension, and even help you sleep! Try a topical magnesium oil for fast, effective relaxation benefits.
6. Spend Time Outdoors
Something about being outdoors transforms a blah day into a special one—and we can use all the special days we can get right now. But connecting with nature also positively impacts wellness in more measurable ways, including immune response, weight management, blood pressure maintenance, positive mood, and healing capacity.12 13,14,15,16,17
All this benefit is due in part to the exposure we get to friendly microbes when we play outside, and nature-induced relaxation and good mood also strongly improve gut health. But the most exciting and relevant news about the great outdoors right now is that fresh air and sunlight seems to strongly discourage the survival and transmission of inhospitable microbes.18, 19
Of course practicing social distancing is still the priority right now, but the bottom line is, being outside is amazingly good for your gut, which is wonderful for overall wellness. There are plenty of opportunities to safely enjoy the natural world right in your own backyard or on your balcony through gardening, picnic-ing, reading in a hammock, or just lying down in the grass and looking for shapes in the clouds.7. Nurture Loving Relationships
There’s something about love that makes everything sweeter—and having to be apart from loved ones for an extended period can be incredibly painful. Whether it’s the love of a romantic partner, a dear friend, a family member, or an adorable pet, it turns out that loving relationships also boost wellness, so much so that according to the world’s longest health study conducted by Harvard University, the quality of your relationships is a stronger predictor of health than your medical records!
Here are a few of the ways love boosts vitality:
• Positive emotions arising from loving relationships strengthen immune function.20
• Loving, supportive relationships reduce damaging stress, which also boosts immunity and overall wellness.21
That’s why it’s so important to enjoy those we’re at home with and to reach out to people we love every single day and keep those loving connections strong. Organize video chat luncheons or holiday celebrations with friends and relatives, and revive the art of exchanging romantic letters and the art of the phone call. To really fill your days with unconditional love, consider adopting a four-legged friend as well—you’ll get back at least three times the love you invest!8. Seek Out Natural Oral Care
Your gut isn’t the only place in your body that harbors a microbiome; on average, the human mouth contains about 300 species of bacteria!22
Why does this matter? The bacteria in your mouth (both the probiotics you need, and the unfriendly varieties you don’t want) eventually find their way into the gut and bloodstream, impacting all the major systems of the body, including your immune function!23, 24,25,26,27,28,29
It’s especially important to care for your oral health during a time when most of us can’t get to the dentist. Thankfully, supporting a balanced oral microbiome isn’t difficult:
• Ditch oral care products that derail microbial health. Antimicrobial ingredients commonly found in toothpaste and mouthwash, such as triclosan and alcohol, kill off helpful bacteria along with unwanted strains. Instead of attacking your microbial community, cleanse your mouth gently with natural oral care products that work in harmony with your oral flora, such as Hyperbiotics Activated Charcoal Probiotic Toothpaste.
• Avoid refined sugar. Eating sugary desserts is just as bad for your friendly flora as it is for your teeth! Just as in your gut, undesirable bacteria love refined sugar, which helps them to thrive, multiply, and crowd out the good guys you want to have around.
• Replenish your oral microbial community. Supplementing with a premium oral probiotic like PRO-Dental introduces your mouth to specific probiotic strains clinically studied for the way they support the health of your teeth, gums, and mouth. And, remember that your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body, so replenishing all the good guys there with an oral probiotic can help to crowd out any hostile microbes trying to make their way in!
9. Find a Mindfulness Practice
When times are uncertain, it’s hard to stay present in each precious moment. Mindfulness practices like meditation help us slow down and reconnect to the peace at the center of here and now. Committing to a regular practice also returns some significant health benefits, which include relaxation, restful sleep, and better immune function to help us better cope with this pandemic.
As if this wasn’t enough reason to get on board, mindfulness practice can also impact the structure and function of the brain long after this crisis passes, increasing gray matter in areas associated with memory, learning, compassion, introspection, and self-awareness—while reducing brain regions associated with worry and fear.30,31 It can even increase the overall number of folds in our brains, while slowing down the natural shrinkage of gray matter as we age.32
Over time, meditation may also increase the length of telomeres (the protective “caps” at the end of our genes, which naturally shorten due to age and stress) so we can stay healthy in later years.33,34,35
Getting back to the gut (where health begins), because meditation so effectively takes you out of a stressful, gut damaging “fight or flight” response, your microbial good guys are put in a better position to keep you feeling healthy and happy.
To embrace mindfulness:
• Choose a modality that interests you. Not sure where to start? Try downloading a free mindfulness mobile app such as Insight Timer, Headspace, or Calm that offers the chance to try out many types of meditation and mindfulness experiences right from the comfort of your home.
• Experiment with different classic techniques, such as focusing on the breath, following thoughts and sensations, working with a mantra, or guided imagery. Set a regular time for practice, even if it’s only a minute or two a day.
• Consider taking an online meditation class to create a richer, shared experience.
• Be easy on yourself. If your mind wanders during practice–which it will—know that gently bringing yourself back to your focus is part of mindfulness, and something to celebrate.
If you’ve been feeling like the rug was just pulled out from under your world, know this: When you’re focused on what’s pleasing rather than what upsets you, you’re bound to feel better. That’s not just a subjective observation—the latest science is confirming that the simple act of being grateful improves physical and mental health and may even help you live longer!36,37
Admittedly, right now it may feel tough to find a lot to feel good about, but it’s still possible to shift your consciousness to a state of gratitude:
• Make a list of the things in your life that wouldn’t be happening right now if our days were “normal” (ex. All family members home together with nowhere to go, the unexpected gift of time, the ability to rest, recharge, and redefine your life to be more congruent with your deepest desires).
• Keep watch for all the amazing little things that are happening all around you. Perhaps you can smell fresh cinnamon muffins baking, or see a silent deer grazing at dusk outside your window. The more you’re on the lookout for life’s everyday gifts, the more of them you’ll be able to claim.
• Start a gratitude journal and jot down at least five things that brought you true happiness each day.
• Don’t worry about what anyone else has—just focus on the aspects of your own life that make you feel blessed.
Gratitude often begins with a shift in awareness, and the experience can ripen even more if it encompasses giving back. Sharing what you have with others feels delicious not just because you’re doing something nice, but also because it creates feelings of abundance and connection. After all, in order to give, one needs to actually have something to give.
There are almost endless options for giving back meaningfully, especially right now! You might donate to organizations that work toward positive changes, or pick up groceries and medicine for someone who can’t leave their home at all. Part of your gratitude journey is figuring out which ways of giving best resonate with your soul.
Here at Hyperbiotics, we’re so proud and grateful to be part of Change for Women, a collective of businesses and creative leaders committed to improving equality, health, and human rights for girls and women worldwide. If this organization calls out to your deepest values too, click here to get involved. We’re also sending a care package each day to those on the front lines of this pandemic (you can learn more here), just because it feels so good to give to others and express our appreciation.
When you commit to significant life changes—especially when the world feels shaky already—it’s only natural to run into a bit of resistance. Hang in there and know that resistance is just part of the process of meaningful change. Before you know it, the intentions and goals that once felt tentative will become deeply ingrained in the new you, a unique light that shines strong today and continues to bring positive energy to the better days ahead.
Wishing you and your family continued health, joy, and love.
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Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.