At certain times of the year your body needs a bit of extra help to stay well. When you start a new course you tend to meet lots of new people and, unfortunately, that means you get exposed to new germs! When you’re under pressure to meet deadlines or you’re experiencing revision and exam stress your immune system also gets put under a lot of stress.
There are a couple of chemical-free ‘secret weapons’ that I use regularly to keep those dreaded bugs at bay. They can prevent you from falling ill with a virus that leaves you bedridden for days, knocking out your carefully planned schedule that you were fully in control of.
First, take an acidophilus supplement
If you’re thinking ‘what on earth is that?’ acidophilus is a probiotic type of bacteria that naturally occurs in your gut and can be found in natural yogurt.
The theory is that 70% of the bacteria in your body that support your immune system reside in your gut. Diet, stress and other lifestyle factors can deplete these good bacteria so topping them up in large doses can help you stay healthy. The number of colds I caught reduced dramatically after I started taking acidophilus regularly and I can’t remember the last time I had the flu.
The secret of success to taking acidophilus is in the number of live bacteria you ingest so make sure you check the number on the front of the bottle. The higher the number, the more potent the pills are, so aim for millions, if not billions. The best but probably most expensive brand you can buy is Biocare. Other brands can work but Biocare really is the leading brand of acidophilus supplements.
Keep the pills in the fridge, start by taking two every day for the first week to give your immune system a good initial boost, then reduce your dosage down to 1 a day for a couple of weeks and over the winter months. After that you could reduce your intake down to 1 capsule every other day.
Secondly, avoid caffeine and energy drinks (which also contain caffeine)
A large, hot latte or quick cappuccino may perk you up in the short-term but, long-term, caffeine depletes your vitamin C stores which you need to fight off germs and viruses, leaving you feeling worse by the end of the day. Look at the ingredients list of most so-called ‘energy’ drinks and you’ll find near the top is sugar, followed by caffeine, then a list of chemicals most of which really only belong in a laboratory, not inside your body!
If you need something that will really give you a boost, get some Berocca or other brand of soluble vitamin C with zinc. Dissolving these in water means you get the vitamins and minerals your body really needs, and you get to increase your water consumption. Eat an apple, banana or some berries to help top up those vital vitamins.
Thirdly, get enough sleep
This may seem like stating the obvious but if you have deadlines looming and you’re getting up early and getting to bed late, or even working into the small hours of the morning to get work finished, you will become run down. Be conscious of how many late nights you’re putting in and, when you can, take time out to relax and have some down time. Have a lie in or go to bed earlier than usual.
If you struggle to get to sleep because you’re stressed about deadlines, exams or making progress with your studies in general, keep a notebook by your bed and write down your worrying thoughts. Getting the thoughts out of your head is the first step towards dealing with them and it may even help you to think of some solutions as you’re writing.
Also, accept that sometimes your brain will switch into ‘overactive’ mode, especially if you have multiple deadlines coming up. If you really can’t sleep and feel awake enough to study or work on an assignment, then get out of bed and do it. There’s no rule carved in stone that says you can’t or shouldn’t study in the middle of the night. I’ve suddenly woken up at 5:30am and written the first draft of an essay conclusion and I sometimes find myself being productive at my desk at 2:30am which is the preferred alternative to tossing and turning in bed.
If you’re really struggling to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, try a herbal sleep supplement such as Kalms Night and aim to get to bed earlier. Only use these until you start sleeping properly. Try and avoid visiting your GP for sleep problems as they tend to prescribe anti-depressants and these are the last thing your brain needs if you want it to function properly and at a higher level.
Last, but by no means least, breathe properly
Yes, I know you’re breathing right now but most breaths we take during the day as we’re dashing around from place to place are shallow. Living in a city also makes it a challenge to really fill your lungs with clean fresh air.
Take 5 or 10 minutes each day to consciously breathe deep into your lungs. If you can, go and stand outside in a green space somewhere, preferably next to a tree or plant and take a couple of long, deep inhalations through your nose. Or just stand up next to your desk if you can’t get outside.
Put your hands on the lower part of your ribcage, just above your waist, and inhale slowly and gently through your nose for a count of 5, or longer if you can, until you feel your lower ribs expanding and your hands moving out with that expansion. Breathe out by blowing slowly and gently through your mouth to make it a good cleansing breath that completely empties your lungs so your hands move back inwards.
Repeat this 5 to 10 times, or more if you can. If you get dizzy (because your brain isn’t used to having so much oxygen!), stop, sit down or lean against the tree and just breath normally.