Slow and Steady Wins the Race!
Do you remember when you were a kid, and summer meant long days of pure freedom stretching in front of you? You had three whole months away from school! Talk about bliss. Summer can be such a wonderfully invigorating time of year. Days are longer, nights are warmer, and many folks tend to have more flexible schedules. This means more outings, vacations, social gatherings, and activities are on the calendar, which means more time for connection with those we love.
Well, I have a confession to make. I love summer for all the reasons listed above, but I also find it challenging. Juggling my kids’ schedules without the predictable structure of a school schedule alone is enough to stop me in my tracks! And for my autoimmune clients, I’ve noticed that all the spontaneous social activity can be depleting and even debilitating. For many folks with autoimmune issues, a failure to effectively manage and balance energy throughout the season can lead to physical consequences in the form of exacerbated symptoms. Yikes!
I’d like to share my tried-and-true tips to maximize enjoyment of my favorite season, so that it doesn’t fly by in a flash of activity and discomfort. Here are a few things to keep in mind this summer if you or someone in your family has autoimmune issues:
- Navigate social events with care. Be mindful—even picky!—about what you say yes to. Sometimes we overcommit ourselves because we’re longing for connection, but it’s important to keep in mind that fatigue from too much socializing can prevent the very connection we’re looking for! I encourage my clients to see if they can buy themselves some flexibility when they are replying to an invitation. Ask the host if they are okay with an RSVP closer to the event, so that you can gauge your energy better in the moment. Bonus tip: being transparent with your friends and family means you are being authentic and true to yourself, which supports healing.
- Prioritize rest! Summer often means much more outside time, and when we’re on the go so much, it can be easy to lose track of what our bodies actually need. Remember: rest is how the body heals and repairs. We cannot heal without it! The key is to tune in to what your body needs: if you feel more energy in this season, do more and get after it, but don’t just sign up for everything because it feels like you should, or because everyone around you is. Plan down time so you can take it if you need it.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It seems like every summer gathering is stocked with cold beverages that are full of sugar, alcohol, or caffeine—none of which are friendly to autoimmune disease. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of good old fashioned water in the hotter months! Add fruit, cucumber, melon, or mint if you want to jazz it up. Bonus tip: drastic changes in temperatures of foods and beverages can be tough on digestion. Try drinking your water at room temperature or slightly cooler, but lay off the ice.
- Plan ahead for tricky diet situations. Sticking to the foods that agree with your body doesn’t have to mean you say no to a vacation or social occasion where food might be harder to control. I coach my clients to come up with a couple of sentences to quickly and easily communicate to folks they spend time with why they’re eating the way they are and why it’s so important. “I’m experimenting with food to see if it can help me feel more energized and comfortable,” for example. Don’t avoid the potential for connection and relaxation on a trip with family or friends by avoiding the conversation! With a little thoughtful preparation, you can set yourself up for success. Bonus tip: many of the strategies I recommend for the holidays apply here, too!
- Soak in some rays (no, really)! The sun has gotten a bad rap, but I have some great reasons that you should try to get 10-15 minutes of good, direct exposure per day. Strip down and sunbathe nude if you can! Here’s why: many autoimmune sufferers are deficient in Vitamin D, which is a nutrient that the sun helps our bodies convert for maximum benefit. Not only that, but sunlight stimulates repair in our cells—no small thing when you consider that we always want to optimize our cell function! Believe it or not, sunlight is more valuable than food in the critical ATP process that our cells rely on for energy and repair. In addition, when we are exposed to the sun, our bodies release nitric oxide, a natural mood booster and anti inflammatory—double whammy. Bonus: if you take a Vitamin D supplement, getting adequate sun during summer months may be a great time to take a seasonal hiatus from your supplement as you soak up the benefits from the real deal.
- Mindfully plan your days/weeks/months this season. Keep the big picture of your health in mind when considering what you commit to this summer. One extremely busy week can make it feel like you’re trying to get your symptoms under control again for a month! You may have to be a lot more deliberate with finding blank space on the calendar so that you can really enjoy the things you do choose to do. Notice the feelings of depletion and overwhelm that creep in when you are overbooked and overextended—it might look like irritability, disconnect, anxiety, overeating, extreme fatigue, or even depression. Our bodies (and our minds) have an incredible way of letting us know when we are out of balance. Our job is to slow down enough to hear them. On that note…
- Listen to your body! My body, for example, tells me often that it wants to be in the sun, but I’ve obviously got to find shade when I’m getting pink! If you’re constantly thirsty, that’s an opportunity to be more proactive with hydration, likewise if you often find yourself uncomfortably hot. Whatever conditions might be taxing the body this season can make it harder to keep autoimmune symptoms under control, so pay attention. Don’t be afraid to s l o w d o w n if you need to!
What tips and tricks have you learned for making the most of your summer without feeling depleted and worn down? Have you dialed in the perfect vacation scenario, or figured out a balance of work and childcare that reduces stress and supports you really well? Maybe you have the perfect easy (and healthy!) recipe to bring to potlucks that gets raves every time. However you’re thriving this season, I’d love to hear in the comments.