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Building Resilience: Five Simple Steps to Thrive

My friends, winter is coming. Between flu season and being in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s really easy to get sucked into the fear narrative, get angry at the behaviors of others, and feel powerless to do anything.

Realistically, none of us can control other people’s behavior. We can’t stop people from having big family gatherings, packing bars or attending large events. We can’t control whether or not people practice social distancing or mask wearing, either.

But, do you know what you can do? You can be cautious with your own behavior and you can take control over your own health and build resiliency. Because, real talk, many of us will contract COVID-19 or influenza. It’s our job and our responsibility to make sure our health is in tip-top shape so that our immune systems can tackle any virus that comes along.

So, how does someone go about building resilience? These are the top five strategies I use with both myself and my patients.

Take out the dietary trash. Food plays a huge role in, well, everything! Generally, I advise patients to eat food that looks like it did when it came from the farm. Or at least as close as you can get. If you need a chemistry degree to read a “food” label, look for something that is closer to real food, because what you have in your hand is too processed. Soda (regular and diet) and sugary foods need to go out the door, too. And alcohol has been a big problem for many people ever since our movements have been more restricted by the pandemic. It needs to be used minimally, if at all.

Get moving. Body composition plays a large role in the inflammatory and immune response. Adipose (fat) cells are, by nature, more inflammatory and people with a lot of adipose tissue will have a poorer response to both influenza and COVID-19 infection. Building muscle and losing fat can be a huge benefit for the immune system and pretty much any system in the body. There are a few exceptions, but I recommend at least a few sessions with a personal trainer for patients so that they don’t injure themselves in the pursuit of fitness. Luckily, we have many fantastic personal trainers in Flagstaff who can get you off the couch and moving.

Modulate your stress response. Feeling fearful and stressed can contribute to depression and anxiety, tank the immune system, and contribute to weight gain. Those “fight or flight” hormones aren’t designed to be elevated all the time, but we have a lot of tripwires in our world that will trigger stress and fear. Common triggers are social media, news intake, school and work. Take a good look at your triggers, because some are controllable and some aren’t. Do you need a social media fast? News diet? Or do you need to see a counselor or other health professional to learn some tools to manage how you respond to work or school stress?

Socialize. We humans are social animals and our immune systems know it! Too much time alone isn’t healthy for humans and there are safe ways to socialize in the midst of a pandemic. I have heard some great ways that my patients have been able to get creative and see family and friends safely. Being outdoors and distanced is a pretty simple and relatively safe way to maintain those vital connections.

Targeted nutrients can help. I can’t recommend nutrients in this article, but I do recommend nutrients for patients if they have any gaps in their diet or they need specialized support. I do a detailed intake on patients before putting them on supplements or medications. But, I will say this, because I can never say it enough: You can’t out-supplement or out-medicate a poor diet and lifestyle.

I want to finish this article by telling you about a patient I recently saw who really impressed me as an example of building resilience by taking a few simple steps. I saw this patient’s annual blood work results before she came in for her visit and her labs were greatly improved over the previous year’s labs. Her inflammatory markers were lower, her Vitamin D levels were improved, and her blood sugar had decreased. I was excited to speak with her and hear what changes she had made. When she got to my office for her physical, I found she had lost 50 pounds! Want to know how she did it? She cut sugar, including soda, out of her diet and started walking every day. That’s it. Those two simple changes she made drastically increase her chances of surviving COVID-19 or influenza if she ends up being exposed. I know you can get your health house in order and build resilience, too!