With the loosening of lockdown guidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic, HR directors, CEO’s and other organisation managers will be thinking hard and planning the return to work and how to protect themselves and their team members from this particular virus and any other seasonal bug that comes along.
In many cases, due to the physical limitation of space it is not feasible to separate working places, meeting rooms, the use of toilets, the space for lunch and coffee breaks to observe the social distancing guidelines. Therefore, what steps can be taken to protect the environment and people within it?
The economic impact of physical and mental ill health
Physical and mental health is considered an individual matter. However, the physical work environment, leadership and general work conditions all affect levels of mental and physical health, which in turn affects focus, drive productivity and overall performance. Knowing how to look after yourself and being responsible to maximise health and energy is key to productivity and performance, both of yourself as a leader as well as those that you lead. It could easily be considered and included as a part of any job description and job responsibilities, saving organisations thousands of pounds from lost work-days due to sickness. Figures taken from the 2017 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey conducted by Vitality Health in partnership with Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, with almost 32,000 employees within 167 companies, found that employees lose an average of 30.4 working days a year due to sickness, or illness-related underperformance, costing the UK economy a staggering £77.5 billion a year, an increase of 6.2% on the previous year.
Can we learn anything from COVID-19 about immune health?
The immune system is responsible for protecting our health through surveillance scanning for bacteria, toxins and viruses. It is a network running throughout the body that includes lymph nodes and vessels, the skin as the first line of defence, as well as the thymus gland. Immune defence is divided into two aspects and can be likened to an army – the first line of defence, known as the non-specific immune that is fast acting, and the specific immune which is slow to respond as it distinguishes between friend and foe. Extensive research has identified that 70% of immune health is in gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Therefore, an unhealthy gut weakens the immune as well as affecting mental health due to the gut-brain connection via the gut-brain axis.
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What compromises the immune system?
In a regular day, our immune copes with the effects of household and industrial chemicals, food additives and preservatives, electromagnetic radiation also known as electro-smog from exposure to Wifi driven and other devices reliant on electricity and non-ionizing radiation, as well as environmental toxins, antibiotics, vaccines and stress we experience in our work and personal lives. As leaders, taking care of the immune system is critical if we want our bodies and minds and those of our employees, to deliver top performance through energy and mental focus. Building a healthy immune does not have to be difficult or time consuming. Just like brushing teeth, showering and eating, maintaining a healthy immune becomes an integral part of our way of life when we know what to do.
What are the markers of a poorly functioning immune system?
The main markers of a poorly functioning immune are:
- Feeling run down or under par for most of the time
- Poor resistance – repeated colds, regularly contracting flu
- Inability to shake off a cold or flu
- Repeated bouts of urinary tract infection
- Exhaustion and weariness
- Low resilience to daily occurrences therefore irrational behaviour
- Poor ability to focus and mental fog
Tips to maintain a healthy immune system
Maintaining a healthy immune assumes that it was formed correctly from birth by the baby passing through the birth canal, feeding on breast milk, nature’s protective mechanism to pass on antibodies to the newly born child and then as the baby grows to pick up pathogens through playing in the dirt. In this case, it can probably be assumed, unless the child has had antibiotics for some reason, that the immune system is functioning effectively.
1. Manage stress in your stride:
- Identify what causes your stress and put steps in place to minimise it
- Think positively replacing any negative thoughts with positive ones
- Communicate assertively and positively. Be ready to forgive
- Walk in nature regularly. Even if living and working in a city, getting outside into a local park is generally possible, and extremely beneficial to lowering levels of stress
- Avoid procrastination
- Deal with conflict openly and constructively.
2. Hydrate and eat healthy foods:
- As the body is made up of 85% water, it is essential for a healthy mind and body. The immune is reliant on water for many functions. Drink a minimum of 1.5 litres of plain water daily by keeping a glass on your desk all the time
- Eat seasonal foods. In each season, nature’s intelligence produces foods that we need to support strong immune health. At this time of year there are lots of orange, yellow, red and blue vegetables and fruit, all of which are high in Vitamins A and C, rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, all essential for effective immune function
- Eat a combination of raw and cooked foods. Too much raw can make the body cold and vica-versa
- Mushrooms – Lions Mane, Maitake, Reishi, Turkey tail and Shitake are natural immune modulators. When added to cooking or taken as a supplement help strengthen and modulate the immune system
- Ensure your gut has a well-balanced microbiome to avoid weakening gut integrity leading to a range of inflammatory digestive disorders and/or brain fog due to the link between the gut and the brain via the gut-brain axis
- Add onion, garlic and leeks (Liliaceae), nature’s anti-virals to soups, stews and salads.
- Take vitamin D3. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 400iu, well below the needed levels for countries in the Northern Hemisphere. A daily minimum of 2,500iu is necessary to protect immune function, and in some cases, it might be more as it is a recognised fact that dark skin does not manufacture Vitamin D as well as pale-coloured skin.
3. Body conditioning:
- Exercise and movement improve lymph flow whilst conditioning the heart and lungs. As the immune system does not have its own pump, it relies on movement to function effectively
- Dry skin brush 4-5 times weekly before showering, to remove any dead skin to keep the first line of defence functioning correctly
- Hot and cold hydrotherapy – invigorate yourself and your immune every day with a hot and cold shower or take a sauna once weekly. Hydrotherapy is very effective for stimulation of lymph flow and strengthening immunity.
4. Know your limits and rest:
- Recognise when you are tired and feeling fatigued to avoid “flogging a dead horse”
- A good night’s sleep helps the body get adequate rest and time to repair
- Avoid pushing yourself when you are suffering from a cold or flu to enable the body to recuperate quickly. Take bed rest if needed
- Switch off Wifi at night to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation, especially when sleeping as this is when the immune is at its most vulnerable.
5. Have fun!
- According to the Mayo clinic and the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, laughter and joy stimulate immune function, keeping us healthy and vibrant. Laughter affects the heart, it improves blood circulation, mental functions and sleep as well as reducing anxiety and uplifting the spirit.
As leaders, when we create an environment that is fun to work in, employees want to come to work to get more of what they love. The benefit to the employer is a productive, effective team of happy, healthy people who are focused, loving what they do and who they do it with.
As managers and leaders how much would you save, and gain, if your main focus and goal was to create a work environment that is a happy, fun place to be?
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Rachel Shackleton, Founder of Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health is a leadership trainer, medical herbalist and naturopath specializing in corporate health through face-to-face, on-line and e-learning development solutions. For more information contact Rachel on firstname.lastname@example.org