Immune system icon with plus sign shield warding off viruses

Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, nurses are working under more stressful conditions than ever before. Some nurses worry about not having proper PPE, as well as the potential of a wave of COVID-19 patients arriving on their unit at any given moment. There are many unknowns regarding the coronavirus and its effect on nurse health, and the stress for many is palpable.

Unfortunately, public experts expect that we are going to be fighting this public health crisis for up to 18 months - or until we have a vaccine. In the meantime, our #1 concern needs to be managing our health. Boosting our immune systems is a great way to do that.

After all, if we don't take care of ourselves first, we won't be able to give the best possible care to our patients. Hypothetically speaking, you must put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help those around you.

Here are eight simple ways that nurses can help boost their immune systems during these times of stress.

1 - Strive for Quality Sleep

It's no surprise to hear that nurses work some pretty unusual hours including day shifts, night shifts, mid-shifts, and even alternating day and night shifts, to name a few.

However, sleep is vital to our immune systems because our bodies do important restorative work while we snooze. When we enter Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, we achieve more restorative sleep and our bodies can regenerate our organs and cells efficiently. When we don't achieve sufficient REM sleep, we feel cranky, unrested, and decrease our immune systems as well.

Here are a few suggested strategies to help you achieve better sleep - particularly for night shift nurses who sleep during daytime hours:

  • Earplugs
  • Eye mask
  • Blackout shades
  • Blue Blocker sunglasses for your drive home in the morning
  • A white noise machine
  • Listen to a meditation app before sleep

2 - Take a Walk

Almost any kind of physical exercise can help boost the immune system, but nurses on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic may prefer a soothing walk to counteract busy nursing shifts. One study measured immune changes by comparing walking for 30 minutes to sitting. They found that even just a half-hour of walking increased immunity, specifically for neutrophil and natural killer blood cell counts.

3 - Have a Cold Shower

Studies have shown that taking a cold shower (or bath) increased the number of white blood cells (our immunity cells) in your body. It is believed that the process of submerging your body in the cold will increase your metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response.

4 - Find Mindfulness With Adult Coloring

Adult coloring bool with assortment of colored pencils

Coloring isn't just for kids! It can also be an effective stress-reducing and mood-enhancing therapy exercise for adults. According to a recent study, coloring for 20 minutes was effective in reducing anxiety and boosting creativity in 47 undergraduate students. It is thought that this occurs because the focus needed for coloring is similar to the necessary focus for meditation, both reducing thoughts and quiet a racing mind.

5 - Use a Meditation App

The benefits of meditation are widely known, but the practice can feel unusual and even stressful for beginners. However, experts say that this is perfectly normal. It takes time and effort to build a personal meditation practice. Once you do, you will experience less anxiety, better self-awareness, improved sleep, and even a longer attention span. Here are a few popular meditation apps to get you started.

  • Headspace: An app that teaches you how to meditate
  • Calm: an app that provides guided sessions ranging in time from 3 to 25 minutes
  • Aura: personal medications based on your mood
  • Buddhify: An app with over 200 meditations you can do anywhere

6 - Nourish Your Body With Immunity-Boosting Foods

Boosting your immune system starts with a healthy diet. Studies have shown that fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, which can help reduce oxidative stress. Fruits and vegetables also provide immunity-boosting nutrients such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Consider adding these vitamin-rich foods to your daily diet:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Broccoli
  • Blueberries
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Turmeric
  • Green tea
  • Salmons

7 - Hydrate

Water is essential for your body's health because it keeps your temperature normal, lubricates joints, protects the spinal cord, and rids your body of waste. Hydration also helps carry oxygen to your cells, which boosts the immune system and keeps your organs functioning properly. Here are a few ways to help increase your daily water intake:

  • Always keep your closed-lid water bottle with you
  • Infuse lemon into your water
  • Make your fizzy water with a SodaStream
  • Add chia seeds to your water
  • Drink tea (which is loaded with antioxidants)

8 - Avoid Catastrophizing and Limit Media

COVID-19 pandemic headlines can be frightening, especially after watching for an extended period. Consider limiting your news and social media time to prevent "headline stress disorder." Compartmentalize your media time to only a few minutes a day to minimize the anxiety, depression, and overwhelm that too much media can bring.

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Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB
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