April 23rd 2021
Lockdown easing got you worried about seeing people? Socialising can actually benefit your immune system
May 19th 2021 / 0 comment
Social wellbeing is an important part of our health, says immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi. These are the steps she is taking to get out there safely
Slowly the world is opening up and suddenly the lockdown easing timeline is now a reality. If you are feeling worried about the end of lockdown, you are not alone. It’s quite natural to have conflicting emotions about re-entry. While almost 37 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a Covid 19 vaccine, the pandemic is far from over.
As much as I can’t wait to see my friends and family, I’ve also found myself feeling a little anxious about doing ‘normal’ social things such as meeting in a pub. I have been taking it slowly, focusing on getting my kids back to their clubs and activities that they have missed so much. I’ve pushed myself to meet a few friends for coffee. The important thing is to take it at a pace that feels comfortable while also pushing yourself towards these vitally important in-person connections and doing so within the current UK guidelines.
We’ve been conditioned into thinking of social contact as something to fear, and of course, we don’t want to spread the virus. But as an immunologist, I know just how beneficial for the immune system social wellbeing can be.
Our anti-viral response is suppressed when we feel lonely. It’s been found that people who are more socially connected are 50 percent less likely to die over a given period. Studies have even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.
So, it is important to rekindle social connections. Just ease yourself back in gently and it's normal to have some degree of social anxiety. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and be kind to yourself – studies even show this can do our immune system some good!
Here are my stay-well re-entry tips for safe socialising
1. Carry on being careful
Once you start going out more, it will bring you into contact with more germs, such as colds and flu – infections we might have forgotten about but which dropped during the pandemic because of social distancing. There’s a lot you can do to prepare your immune system for those challenges. The first is to remember that there is no way to make yourself invincible to germs. We have evolved with them and share our environments with them. But we can acknowledge the role that we play in their transmission and continue to limit outings, practising social distancing, using hand sanitiser, mask-wearing and good hygiene practices.
2. Take up the vaccine
Remember though some people who receive a Covid 19 vaccine will not benefit from the full protection that the vast majority will enjoy - no vaccine is 100 per cent effective. This means we need to continue to follow the guidance and not drop our guard despite cases of Covid 19 dropping and the number of vaccinated adults in the UK rising. You can book a coronavirus vaccine via the NHS website.
3. Eat healthily and stay active to protect your immune system
Diet and lifestyle play a vital part in how your immune system functions. Staying active, which is slightly easier now that restrictions have eased and consistently eating a balanced health overall diet pattern that includes plenty of fibre, fresh produce, protein and healthy fats, collectively play a critical role in the proper functioning of our immune system. Eat a whole food, plant-rich diet, and be sceptical of products that have enticing claims to boost your immune system.
4. Keep washing your hands
If there is anything Covid taught us it’s that washing your hands is WAY more important than people thought. Half of all food-borne illnesses are due to unwashed hands.
5. Stick to a consistent sleep and wake time
This supports good quality and quantity of sleep. The risk of infections has been found to be higher after one bad night of sleep (less than six or seven hours per night).
6. Try to reduce stress.
One area that is highly neglected is the impact of stress and mental wellbeing on our immune system. Cortisol can interfere with the function of immune cells (this is why cortisol-based drugs are given to treat immune system-linked inflammatory diseases such as IBS and psoriasis).
Your stress response triages all your nutrients and energy towards the immediate threat, and away from energy-intensive parts of the body such as the immune system. Plus being stressed can make us less likely to stick to healthy habits such as eating or sleeping well.
7. Get on top of your jet lag
If you’re traveling, synch with your new time zone quickly. Changing time zones can impact your sleep leaving you more vulnerable to infection. To prevent and reduce jet lag, you need to quickly align your body clock with the time zone of your destination. Light has the most powerful influence on circadian rhythm, sunlight has the highest level of illumination so it more beneficial than artificial light.
Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces that helps to both make you feel sleepy and govern your circadian rhythm. Melatonin is normally produced in the evening, a few hours before bedtime, but this schedule can get thrown off by jet lag. Short-term supplemental melatonin can help phase shift your circadian rhythm towards your new time zone.
8. Take zinc and vitamin C on holiday
The more people we are in contact with, the more chance we are of catching germs so keeping on top of your diet and lifestyle is really crucial, likewise following social distancing and good hygiene and minimising your stress levels while traveling. Taking some zinc and vitamin C supplements (try Healthspan Zinc with Vitamin C £10.45) are a good idea so that if you do fall sick, you can quickly support the rising needs for these nutrients when fighting off the infection.
9. Stock up on lateral flow tests
They are available free from pharmacies and on the government website. Testing twice a week can help you stop the spread while traveling abroad or even when visiting friends and attending social gatherings. This will help us all get back to normal sooner rather than later.
Dr Jenna Macciochi is an immunologist and brand ambassador for supplement and well-being brand Healthspan. Based in Brighton, Jenna is a lecturer at Sussex University and a qualified fitness instructor. She is a mother of five-year-old twins and a keen home cook, creating recipes inspired by her farm-to-table Scottish roots and capturing her Italian heritage.