The Pillars Of Health For Autoimmune Mastery (Part 2)
The biggest success stories I see in women with autoimmune disease are the ones who address all aspects of their life. They eat well, move their body, rest when needed and set boundaries (important). They make changes in their life to ensure their needs are met, reduce and better manage stress and as a consequence, they see a reduction or eradication in symptoms and get to experience true joy and pleasure in their life.
For me, there is nothing better than seeing these women truly thrive.
In part one, I talked about the benefits of good food, clean water, quality sleep, movement to reduce inflammation, and the importance of community. If you haven’t already read part one, you can read it here.
Here are numbers 6-10 of my top 10 pillars of health to help you master your autoimmune disease:
“Slip, slop and slap” is the message we have all heard here in Australia for years. We have been programmed to fear the sun and either avoid it or slather ourselves with sunscreen, blocking UV rays from our skin.
But did you know that sunshine is actually good for you?
Not only is sunshine on the skin the first step in vitamin D synthesis (which is notoriously low in Australians, but especially so in those with autoimmune disease), but it also plays an important role in melatonin synthesis (better sleep anyone?) and the stimulation of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), with reduced activity of this gene strongly associated with depression and mood disorders.
We spend so much time indoors and in front of screens, and this needs to be countered with time spent in nature. Get outside in the fresh air, hug a tree, plant a seed…just do what you can, despite the challenges we face currently. I have been lovingly tending to my indoor plants and my peace lily is just about to flower for the first time – bliss.
Nature is our greatest healer. We need to listen to her and embrace her more often.
For many people, this may be religion and being part of a community who come together to embrace God. For others, this may be connection with the divine through meditation. Spirituality is both individual and part of a collective, and it has been shown time and time again to have a positive impact on relationships, self-esteem, optimism, and a sense of purpose (see below). Above all, it can bring a sense of peace.
Connecting with the divine through prayer or meditation can have significant benefits for health, so give it some consideration if this is not part of your current practice.
Having a sense of purpose is empowering and contributes positively to your health in many ways. Setting and achieving goals become easy because you are passionate about what you do, whether that be professionally, as a volunteer or as a care giver or parent, and in turn, you will inspire and motivate others around you.
It can also help in times of trouble, such as illness, unemployment or loss, as you have a reason to keep moving forward. Having a sense of purpose supports our health and wellbeing in many ways.
It has taken me a long time to find my sense of purpose, both professionally and personally, so don’t worry if you haven’t found yours yet. It will come when you give yourself the time and space you need to look inward and find your passion. Here is a great blog post that delves into this concept a little deeper.
This is one of the pillars I am particularly passionate about. I have loved music since I was a kid. It took me 2 years to convince my parents that I wanted to learn how to play the flute after becoming addicted to recorder in primary school, and at one point I even wanted to play for the Melbourne Symphony (but then I discovered cigarettes in my rebel years so that went out the window). When I was a little older at university, I heard a song that changed my life and I just HAD to learn how to play it on guitar, so I didn’t pay rent that week (the only time I’ve ever done that in my life) and bought a crappy old guitar and a chord book instead.
Music and creativity is a big part of who I am. I also knit, sew, have been known to enjoy colouring in at times (I suck at drawing) and I LOVE to sing. One day when this current situation is all over, I might actually be able to realise my dream of starting a local community choir so we can all benefit from switching on our vagus nerves together!
Creativity allows for self-discovery and improves brain function including problem-solving, as well as mental and physical health. For many it’s as good as meditating and can reduce anxiety, depression and stress, and help us to process grief and trauma.
For those who have autoimmune disease, there are some really interesting studies that have shown an increase in immune function with creative pursuits, even with just listening to music or journaling. For myself personally, music gets me ‘in the zone’ (or ‘in the flow’). It takes me out of my head, switches off my brain and grounds me in the present moment. Most importantly, it brings me great joy. My brain becomes flooded with dopamine, that feel-good neurotransmitter that brings us pleasure. The best bit? It continues long after the music ends, helping to influence behaviour, increase motivation and keep you feeling happy.
Did you know that a good belly laugh increases oxygen and stimulates many organs including your heart and lungs? It also increases endorphins helping you to feel good and reduce the stress response.
The long-term benefits have also been shown to relieve pain, improve immune function and mood, and help you deal with difficult situations, such as what we are all living through right now.
Laughter really IS the best medicine, so find your tribe and share some giggles. You will feel lighter, more optimistic and more joyful.
You will note here that I haven’t mentioned that S-word (STRESS) and that is on purpose. Stress occurs when we are out of alignment and when our needs are not being met. If you ensure you are meeting those needs (e.g. the pillars of health), your stress will diminish or disappear entirely.
So that’s it! That’s my top 10 pillars of health for women with autoimmune disease. I hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for positive changes that you can make in your life to improve your health and wellbeing.
Denise Berry is a Naturopath who works with women with autoimmune disease to help them get their mojo back. She is a passionate advocate for educating, empowering and transforming the health of women and has helped hundreds of people improve their health and wellbeing. You can find out more about her Autoimmune Mastery program here.