It’s hard enough minimizing stress working in a pharmacy on any given day of the week. Let alone facing a pandemic that is striking fear and uncertainty into our minds and the minds of the people we serve.As a pharmacist, you are facing the task of helping patients who are feeling more overwhelmed than usual, protecting your staff, and protecting yourself.

What’s more, all of this added stress can compromise your immune system and make the situation even more pressing.

You can eat all the oranges and load up on immune-boosting foods you want. You can also load up on vitamin C and zinc tablets (if there are any left on the shelves). However, if you don’t find a way to manage your stress, you may still find yourself more susceptible to falling ill. 

Let’s take a quick look at four things you can begin doing today that can help reverse the adverse effects stress has on our immune system just in case the grocery store is picked over and vitamin shelves are emptied out. 

1. Be kind to others and let kindness come to you

Most of us tend to think the best way to handle our stress is by finding ways to relax. In reality, relaxation is merely the absence of stress. Kindness, on the other hand, is the opposite of (and antidote to) stress because it causes our body to release oxytocin. It doesn’t take anything grandiose either. A kind thought about someone, or even a small gesture for a customer (who may be treating you worse than usual) can do the trick. We are all streaming videos now more than ever. Just find some that display acts of kindness, and you’ll get the same effect (known as the ‘Mother Theresa Effect‘). Simply put, find ways to be kind in this trying time.

2. Dose yourself with more of that tender touch

Wait, what did he just say?! We need to be practicing social distancing with six feet! Yes, that does apply to most situations. However, human beings need physical touch to thrive and be healthy. The sensation of touch lowers cortisol levels and directly augments your immune system’s ability to ward off infection. Although it may challenge your patience at times, consider it a blessing to have family nearby as we do our part to stay home whenever possible. Why is it a blessing, you ask? Aside from keeping you company, your family can also fulfill your daily dosage of physical touch (so long as everyone is feeling well). Are you living on your own? Pet’s can elicit the same response, so cuddle up on the couch! No pet? Well, I won’t go so far as to suggest any intimacy with inanimate objects…

3. 10 Minutes of meditation per day keeps the doctor away

I admit, there likely isn’t a randomized controlled trial that proves this, but then again, an apple doesn’t have the evidence either! What is known is that meditation has a positive effect on inflammation and our immune function. The novel coronavirus has shown to elicit an overwhelming immune response known as a cytokine storm. Now seems like an appropriate time to do something to mitigate that response. The practice of mindfulness also helps us manage stress in the present moment, and I bet you have a lot of those moments that elicit a stress response. Tried meditation before but still can’t get into it? It helps to have guidance, and there are many resources available to help. Headspace is giving away its premium service for free to all healthcare workers through the end of the year. You need an NPI (national provider status coming soon) to sign up right away. However, they take e-mail requests, as well. Just let them know you work on the front lines in the pharmacy, and they will get you set up. Prefer reading about it and practicing meditation in silence? The Ziva Technique is a unique approach to meditation as a means to stress less and accomplish more.  

4. Get moving

Last on my list, but certainly not least, is physical activity. I know you might be thinking to yourself that this is obvious, so why is he mentioning it? It’s worth a mention because it still not utilized enough in our profession. We make the excuse of lacking time, but in reality, it’s not a matter of time to fit it in. It’s a matter of priority. Trust me; it is in your best interest to make it a priority now more than ever. Gyms are all closed, so throw that excuse out the window. Home workouts it is! There is an abundance of them streaming live every day. Start with something as simple as five minutes. It doesn’t have to be challenging. Your physical activity could even be a stroll around the block (6 feet!). You’ll come to find exercise is an excellent way for your body to utilize the cortisol that has built up after a stress-inducing day. Step up your walk into a hike in the woods, as time in nature boosts immune function. Might I suggest you check out my good friend, Dr. Adam Martin’s, Fit Pharmacist Healthcare Podcast if you need something uplifting and inspiring to listen to.

Of course, there are several other non-nutrition ways to enhance your immune function, like getting restful sleep and fasting (one of my favorite ways to boost productivity, too). Do yourself a favor during this stressful time. Pick one (or all four) of these to try and implement into each day. I know I personally used to use alcohol to cope with craziness. However, alcohol has the opposite effect on your immune system’s function. Just remember, we are all in this together. We will all get through this together.

Strive to thrive,

Brian

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