COVID-19: 7 Tips to Improve Your Body's Immunity and Calm Your Mind Now

By Sejal Shah | Posted: March 09, 2020

Since news first broke of a Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, the world has been on high alert during the threat of an emerging global pandemic. Uncertainty and panic has gripped the world. It is important to stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the WHO website and through your national and local public health authority, CDC for instance in the USA.

There is no doubt that these are times of uncertainty. Fear and anxiety thrive on uncertainty. People are feeling extremely vulnerable, scared, and stressed. You might think that stress keeps you safe, but there's a catch-22: the more you stress, the less effective your immune system becomes, and the more vulnerable you become to viruses. It is proven that stress can dampen your immune response. 

Here are some more steps you can take to improve your immunity and also to keep anxiety in check when fear strikes:

1. Do yoga—Stretch. Breathe. Meditate.

One of the most popularly quoted verses in the Bhagwat Gita, an ancient text on yoga, is “yoga is skill in action”. Some may wonder how to achieve this skill of being calm and peaceful, so that emotion of fear does not overwhelm their thinking in these disturbing times.

Yoga incorporates movements, breath, and meditations that help release the unresolved stress in the body and mind, leading to health and well-being. Asanas particularly have a positive effect on fitness and physical flexibility, but also a secondary effect on the mental state, while pranayama and relaxation/meditation techniques may result in greater awareness, increased immunity, and improved quality of life, resulting in overall higher well-being. Here are some specific asanas and pranayama that help deal with anxietyEven practicing these five simple yoga mudras or hand gestures can help to cope with stress and panic attacks naturally.

Modern-day scientific research helps us to understand the workings of yoga techniques that have stood the test of time. The key to finding peace and tranquillity can be found within our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which acts largely unconsciously and regulates our respiratory system, among other things. Two key branches of this system are the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – responsible for the fight or flight reflex, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – responsible for the rest and digest reflex.

In these stressful times, our SNS is prone to fire up with very minimal stimuli, causing fear and panic. To counterbalance this effect, and to reduce anxiety, we need to stimulate the PNS. We can use yoga techniques that act on the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the abdomen. Research has shown that different forms of “pranayama”, or breathwork, particularly Sudashan Kriya (SKY breathing), can lead to greater vagal tone.

Independent research studies on Sudarshan Kriya also suggests its regular practice significantly enhances immunity:

  • SKY improved immune cell counts in apparently healthy individuals, some even documented this increase within three weeks (neutrophils, lymphocytes, platelet count)

  • SKY improved immune cell counts in health compromised individuals seen in 12 weeks (Natural Killer Cells) 

  • Results showed beneficial changes in our DNA which support an increased lifespan of white blood cells, our immunity cells. 

In any such times of disease spread, where improving immunity and keeping calm are the two key factors to maintaining your health, learning some powerful breathing practices and Sudarshan Kriya can be extremely resourceful. You can learn these powerful breathing practices at a Happiness Program near you. Click here to find out when the program is scheduled next near you.

If you’d like to learn more, we invite you to join our online Happiness Webinar for free.

If you have learnt this Sudarshan Kriya before at the Happiness Program offered by the Art of Living Foundation, you are encouraged to continue with its home practice regularly as per the guidelines given to you by the instructors. Start with some yoga asana, followed by Sudarshan Kriya home practice, followed by Sahaj Samadhi Meditation or any other guided meditation. This routine will definitely help you improve your immunity as well as help you keep calm.

These Ayurvedic tips could also be very helpful to enhance your immunity.

2. Unplug. 

It's important to be in the know, but obsessing over the news and social media is definitely a no-no. 

"There's a point where information gathering could become problematic," says Stewart Shankman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies anxiety. He says that too much information could have the unintended effect of driving up your fear. If you're taking basic steps to protect yourself and stay informed, that's enough. "There's no way to reduce your risk to zero," Shankman says. You could spend all day and night reading headlines, news alerts or tweets, but this does not change your risk of getting coronavirus."

Alternatively, as you unplug from the news, try a meditation app, such as The Journey App, to help you let go of anticipatory anxiety. Numerous studies have shown that meditation is very effective at reducing stress and anxiety and even improve immunity.

3. Get a good night’s sleep

According to a study done by Aric Prather, of the University of California, San Francisco, when researchers sprayed a live common cold virus into the noses of a group of healthy people as part of a study, not everyone got sick. Individuals who were sleeping the least were substantially more likely to develop a cold, and well-rested people were better at fending off viruses.

Even though there's still a lot to learn about the new Coronavirus, take a hint from the research above, and make sure that you get a good sleep every night. If you're having trouble sleeping, techniques such as yoga nidra can be helpful. 

Here again, SKY breathing can come very handy. A 2006 study shows that SKY practitioners significantly spend more time in deeper sleep. 

4. Focus on what strengthens you rather than what scares you

Our brains are twice as sensitive to what could go wrong (or be lost) than they are to what could go right (or be gained!). Dire images of pandemics (or other similarly cataclysmic events) have a way of capturing our imaginations more than that of an ordinary flu. Instead of putting your whole attention on the news and conversations about the coronavirus, get engaged in activities that help you feel strengthened and uplifted, even through simple and random acts of kindness or volunteering at a local community center. Do more of the activities that ground and center you, and help you recharge and reset your mental space. Apart from what is mentioned above, exercise, eat well, keep yourself hydrated, journal, get out in nature, and do any such things that uplifts your spirits.

5. Help people navigate their panic

Once you gather yourself, help others to become proactive. Talk calmly, spread facts, avoid rumors, and in your conversations don’t allow fear mongers to influence other people. You could even organize online coronavirus awareness/educational talks or online group meditation sessions!

6. Plan ahead to feel more in control

Those of us prone to anxiety like to be in control. If you take basic steps to prepare for the possibility of an outbreak in your community, you may feel a sense of relief. For instance, ask your employer about a work-from-home option. Be prepared for disruptions such as school closings. Have contingency plans for these disruptions. In addition, identify trusted sources of information you can turn to in the event of an outbreak. But at the same time, in the name of planning, don’t panic and go shopping in bulk from grocery stores, don’t stock up things unnecessarily, don’t buy masks unless you yourself have cough-like symptoms. Carry on with your usual activities and work, unless you are sick. In that situation, stay at home.

7. See this time as an opportunity to slow down

Here is a special tip from Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living foundation, “All of us need to be careful but there is no need to panic. On the other hand, let's not be complacent either. Accept this challenging situation and see how you can use it constructively. Perhaps, nature wants everybody to slow down a little from the rush they are in.” Instead of wasting this time in panicking, gossiping and spreading rumors, definitely we can use this time to nurture and nourish and do things that can help us and our loved ones to build our physical and mental resilience.

I hope that these tips will help you stay calm amidst the chaos. Know that this is a passing phase and it shall pass soon. Your prayers and blessings have tremendous power. This is the time to use them in abundance.

Read more insightful blogs on COVID-19 at: Coronavirus Information and Help

This content on the Art of Living blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Any links to third party websites are provided as a convenience only and the Art of Living blog is not responsible for their content.

Sejal Shah, E-YRT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, Meditation Teacher, Happiness expert, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath. She can be followed on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.