October 11, 2009

Stay Healthy Through the Flu Season: Part 1

Last weekend I watched a segment of the Today show where an internist from the NYU Medical Center advised us to have two flu shots this year. In fact, he gave one of the shots to the reporter on the air to prove how quick and easy it is.

Although the discussion was about how safe the shots are, we actually don't know about the safety of these vaccinations. Any time chemicals are injected into the body, there is a reaction on some level.

In 1974 under the advice of medical experts, President Ford ordered a nationwide vaccination program to prevent a swine flu epidemic. 25% of the population was vaccinated. That year one person died from the swine flu while over 500 contracted a nerve disease called Guillain-Barre. This nerve disease was a side-effect from the vaccine and over 30 people died from it.

If you are concerned about this upcoming flu season, but you are also uncertain about what to do, my recommendation is that you build your own immunity either way, so it can do what it was designed to do: protect you from viruses and disease.

The very first thing to note in your life when you decide to give your immune system a helping hand is whether you get enough rest. Your body cannot run on empty continually and also work efficiently to keep you free from disease. We seem to have lost the fine art of resting, believing instead that we must keep going, produce something, look busy. But how productive is this in the long run when it keeps stress levels high among the general population? We are all aware that stress releases disease-friendly chemicals into the body, but up to this point, we seem incapable of making the necessary adjustments. Even when we do think we are resting, the television is on, or the computer, or some other gadget.

In my work I speak with many people who say they feel more anxiety when they slow down and actually take breaks from their overcommitted lives. Somehow we've bought into the notion that when we are doing something we are being successful (and valuable). I also believe that we have discomfort with what we find and feel when we finally stop the madness and just settle in with nothing else but our own stillness. What if we have no value if we are aren't doing something? It's a common question. But allowing the body to heal, rest, and renew is doing something important, and necessary.

We live in a society whose lack of health is out of control. Rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, arthritis, general aches and pains, chronic fatigue, even the now-common acid reflux are off the charts. Instead of only wishing more people had insurance so they could get drugs to mask the symptoms of these diseases, perhaps an additional sensible approach would be to educate people on how to take care of themselves from the beginning so many of these diseases could be prevented.

Sleep and rest are vital to maintain and build a strong immune system. How many of you rest, literally lay down and put your feet up, when you are tired? Very few of you, I'm certain, but the body's anti-stress mechanisms, including the adrenals, get to breathe a sigh of relief when the body is prone and the head and feet are at rest. Apparently in this position the tiger is no longer nipping at your heels and the whole being knows it. Regeneration and restoration can occur.

When you feel tired it is your signal that your body (and mind) need to recharge. It's that simple, however, many of us have become so caught up in our doing-more lifestyles that we ignore this basic sign. As you think about this most essential human need and its role in your life, you'll have the opportunity to face the ways you avoid it. If you are lucky, you'll get to address why you avoid it. The answer is a diamond of self-awareness and knowledge.

As you become someone who can successfully rest, you might find yourself addressing your own drive and desire to be someone, to be accepted, to be important. The process can reveal to you the ways you try to prevent that nagging anxiety that comes each time you truly get quiet with yourself and allow yourself to be still. These days true rest is a bit more than just saying, "Hey, lay down and put your feet up." Underlying compulsions driven by an overscheduled society tend to keep people moving to the point of exhaustion and depletion. So there is an opportunity here to heal on several levels.

If you truly got quiet and allowed your entire being to just completely rest I think you would feel really, truly good afterward. And your immune system would be in a better position to protect you from this season's bugs. Perhaps you'll give it a try. Let your body heal and repair itself so it has the means to protect you from disease as it was meant to do.

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