By Dr. Laura Kastner
The school year just started and already we’re hearing about hundreds of college kids quarantined in dorms with snazzy names like Club Swine, Leper Colony and Swine Flu Dorm. We all dread that our kids could get H1N1 (I’m going to call it by its proper name—H1N1—so we don’t incriminate pigs wrongly). Thankfully, there are lots of things we can do to take action, instead of just giving into fear and anxiety. We can take measures to keep our children healthy in mind, body and spirit. Staying well is called “preventive” medicine, which includes health maintenance.
Most of us have some basic good sense about how to keep ourselves and our children physically healthy—with balanced meals, physical fitness, ample sleep and good hygiene. But physical health is influenced by many factors. Have you ever heard of psychoneuroimmunology? It is a big fancy word, but it is an exciting and important field of study, which focuses on how stress, thoughts and emotions affect the immune system and physical health. Although a direct link with H1N1 has not yet been studied, it has been clearly shown over many decades of research that there exists a relationship between mind-body health and immunity against infections.
I already mentioned some of the key “bodily centered” aspects of health maintenance (nutrition, exercise, and sleep), but you might be surprised about the number of psychological factors which promote mind-emotion-body wellness and resistance to infection. Since we want our kids to be REAL STRONG, I’ve made up an acronym with that goal in mind.
• R elationships with family and friends (close and secure)
• E motional resilience and the ability to cope with stressors
• A cceptance of adversities as challenges to be handled well
• L ife meaningfulness and avoidance of excessive materialism
• S tress management and effective problem solving skills
• T ime for family, R & R, and fun without screens and electronics
• R esistance to urgency, hostility, impatience and manic lifestyle
• O ptimism, positive feelings and gratifying experiences
• N ature exposure and benefits of being in green space
• G ratefulness—counting one’s blessings
Investing in these pursuits and values is important for individuals and families that want to bolster the health of their children. Rather than wringing our hands about doom and gloom in the media and "what might happen", why don't we all just pledge to turn off the TV, go for a bike ride with our kids, play more games and get more sleep?
In our book, Getting to Calm, my co-author Jennifer Wyatt and I have a chapter on “When Everyone is Stressed out” with numerous ideas for de-stressing our lives. One of my favorite tools is a chart called, “The ABC’s of Family Health”. Check it out!