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The Mindful Way to Combat the Flu

The Mindful Way to Combat the Flu

"In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins." - Ulysses S. Grant

Ah, the flu.  It's back and full swing.  Swine Flu (H1N1) and other strains of Influenza are at their height through most of the United States this week.  It sneaks in at just the right moment, just like any good invader, and it got me good this time.  I spent the past 4 days on my couch fighting the good fight again the invaders who brought in all kinds of suffering into my body.  I had headache, coughing congestion, sore throat, my eyes hurt, aches and pains, and a good two day fever.  The question is, when a virus infects your body, what can you do to win the battle?  

Many people rush to the doctor only to find out that the only thing they can do is wait it out.  They're crowding doctors' offices and spreading the virus to others.  When your doctor tells you that you have no treatment options available - the only thing left is the power of your mind and the power of your body.  How do you keep your mind and body strong while fighting a virus?  I've compiled a list of my 5 favorite mindful practices for kicking illness out the door. 

1.  Relax

When we are under stress, our immune system is compromised.  Our bodies are constantly fighting invaders and usually winning quickly before we even have symptoms, but when we are under stress our immune system shuts down to allow us to fight whatever stressor has entered our lives.  Whether it's mental stress like work, family, relationships or financial concerns or an external stress like drastic temperature shifts or accidents - our body puts all its resources into fight or flight response and less towards everyday body maintenance.  As soon as your body's defenses are down, the virus can sneak in and multiply and next thing you know, you're sick as a dog.  Once the illness sets in, the best thing you can do is avoid everything that causes you stress.  Sleeping, watching happy movies, guided meditations and most importantly taking time off work will help you to recover faster.  Read more about how our immune system reacts to stress  here.   

Mindful Practice:  Be grateful for the time to relax.  Your body is demanding it.  Watch your favorite movies, be lazy and eat whatever you're craving.  For your body to work at its best, you have to take a vacation from stress.  Tell yourself, "At this exact moment, there is absolutely nothing in the world that is better for my body than rest."  

2.  Battle is Painful for Good Reason

The flu did not give you a headache, runny nose, cough, a fever or the aches and pains - your body did.  They are your body's best weapons - and they hurt, but they work.  Often times we rush to the drug store to buy cold remedies that mask our symptoms, lower our fever and allow us to carry on our everyday life.  In actuality the best thing you can do for your flu is allow the fever to take its course, cough it out, sneeze it out and allow the inflammation that is killing the virus. In fact, fevers are shown to increase immune function. When we reduce our symptoms, we reduce our body's ability to fight at full force - cold medicine is the equivalent of friendly fire.  Encourage a mild fever by drinking ginger tea and bundling up.  This will lead to sweating and a return to normal body temperature.  According to the Mayo Clinic, a fever under 102 degrees in an adult should not be treated.  If a fever is higher than 102 or persists for more than 3 days, it's time to call the doctor.  Avoid self medicating unless it is absolutely necessary because you will be suppressing your body's natural defenses. 

Mindful Practice:  Be grateful for your symptoms, they are your army.  When you feel the worst, they are overcoming the virus.  Chart your temperature so you can see the results of your body's defenses.  There is no better feeling than a return to 98.6!  Even though some symptoms may still be present, you know you have won the hardest battle.  

3.  Hydrate

Our cells need water to function properly during our healthy life, but when we're sick, they need even more help.  As our cells are killing the virus, they need to also clean up the mess.  Juice, water, chicken broth and hydration drinks help to speed up the process - it's the difference between trying to mop the floor with a cup of water or a gallon.  Clean it out!  During your illness, you can easily test for dehydration by pinching the skin on the back of your hand.  Hold it for a few seconds and release.  It should easily bounce back into place (the older you are, the longer it might take as skin looses elasticity).  If it sluggishly goes back to normal, you better drink up.  Keep a humidifier running, especially in the winter when the air is dry.  

Mindful Practice:  With every sip of water, imagine your fighter cells plumping up like Popeye and joyously cleaning the remnants of the virus out of your body.  

4.  Ease Your Way Back to Regular Life

Just because you won the fight, doesn't mean the battle's over.  Keep an eye on your symptoms.  Complications from the flu can range from sinus infections to pneumonia.  Symptoms can last for weeks!  If they don't seem to be getting better or if your fever returns, it's time to see a doctor.  Most importantly, your immune system can stay on task if you can keep your stress levels down.  When you get back to regular life, you will have a lot to catch up on.  It is important during this time to keep on task without feeling overwhelmed or guilty for taking time off. 

Mindful Practice:  Take a half hour to make a list of all the things that need to get done and prioritize them by importance.  Remember that while there is a lot to do, you can only do your best work when you are healthy and stress-free.  Take the first task and get started.  If you feel yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a short break to stretch and walk.  Tell yourself "I am focused on the most important task right now, everything else will get done when I am ready."

5.  Protect Yourself for the Future

Keeping your immune system strong depends on your ability to handle stress.  I am usually very good at dealing with stressful situations in my life and moving forward, but sometimes, they get the better of me.  I tend to catch viruses during times of family stress, whether good stress (like preparing for Christmas) or bad stress (like a death in the family).  While I can easily deal with the stress in my own life, I tend to wear my stress with pride around my family, like a martyr.  Somehow it has this ability to make me feel important - and like clockwork - a virus will catch me before I have a chance to realize what I'm doing.  After every flu bug, I am learning bit by bit to stop wearing stress with pride around my family - it doesn't make me special, it makes me a pain the ass and it affects me physically.  Illnesses are a very tangible wake up call that you're not dealing with stress in a healthy manner.    

Mindful Practice:  For minor illnesses like colds and flus, have a look at the week or two before you started showing symptoms, what stressor happened that left your immune system compromised? Do you get this kind of illness on a regular basis (like every December)?  What is the common thread - is there regular stress around that event or time of year?  How can you avoid it or process it better in the future?  

The ability to fight illness is part of physical greatness.  Cherish this time to relax, take care of yourself, get back on track and protect yourself against future illnesses.  When you have no other options, mindfulness is the best weapon.  

Learn more about how to be healthier and happier through a mindfulness practice.

Happy Healing!

Carrie Collins grew up in a world where obesity and complacency were viewed as normal and ambition was considered alien. She spent years of training as a classical pianist learning that the only way to reach your goals was through focus, silence and years of dedicated practice. Ten years as a professional pianist came to a halt when she developed a rotator cuff injury. In the successful attempt to heal herself, she transitioned to work as a Ki-Hara Stretching trainer and teacher trainer. Her experiences as a music teacher, performer and body-worker combined to form her ultimate philosophy as written in Life Renovations. Through her work, Carrie has taught in ten states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, England and Mexico. Her work with Life Renovations includes classes, retreats and online seminars.

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