Prevent post-election autoimmune flares this Thanksgiving

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A family gathering this Thanksgiving may feel like reality TV survival show if you have autoimmunity and politically polarized family members.

Stress, anger, and fear trigger an inflammatory immune response that can rage on for weeks, flaring attacks against your tissue and sending inflammation coursing through your body and brain.

This brings not only your autoimmune symptoms, but also general symptoms associated with autoimmunity: brain fog, fatigue, depression, lethargy, chronic pain, gut problems, and insomnia.

This year more than ever, it pays to be extra careful given the fractious national mood. Avoid political discussions, but if they happen around you, try the following.

Focus on being calm, not right. Remember, the goal is to protect your health, not be right. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind anymore than they are going to change yours. Arrive knowing this is not an argument that’s going to be won.

Learn and practice self-calming techniques before you arrive. Anger is like a fire that’s hard to put out once lit. Commit to preventing anger by practicing some proven relaxation techniques you can employ even if Aunt Sally or Cousin Fred are going off.

Self-calming, anti-inflammatory ideas include:

Breathing from your diaphragmThis slows your heart rate, improves oxygen flow, and inhibits stress. Shallow, rapid chest breathing puts your body in the fight-or-flight response, which will lure you into an argument against your better judgment.

Alternate nostril breathing. Casually place your fingers near your nose and press your right nostril shut to inhale through your left nostril. Then exhale through your right nostril, inhale through your right nostril, and start from the beginning. Remember to breathe from your diaphragm. This slows the heart rate, lowers stress, and focuses the mind.

Sensing your body. Bringing awareness into your body, especially the parts where you may be feeling anger or fear, can help neutralize those emotions. Start with sensing a hand, or the feeling of your feet on the ground, and slowly move that sensation through different parts of your body.

Do not get “hangry.” I repeat, do not get hangry. Hanger is that angry hunger triggered by low blood sugar and is a recipe for war. Keep your autoimmune-legal snack items with you at all times.

Accept people where they are. And yourself. You feel strongly about your beliefs, as do your family members. You may not understand one another, but accept we can only be where we are with our beliefs.

Give thanks. This holiday is about gratitude, an enormous boon to health, so practice it (authentically) regularly. Even if you think Uncle Bob’s vote was an act of treason, focus on how generous he is, or his sense of humor.

Consider whether to go. If your autoimmunity is severe or your family especially toxic, weigh whether your health can afford the visit. It’s ok to avoid having to spend a month recovering in bed.

If you’re already managing your autoimmunity, then you know avoiding inflammatory foods, excess alcohol, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion are important. Just remember to be mindful of how powerfully stress affects autoimmunity during this particularly unusual Thanksgiving holiday.

Don’t let travel derail your autoimmune management

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Managing an autoimmune condition is hard enough. Throw in holiday travel, staying with relatives, meals out, and exhaustion, and autoimmune management goes to a new level of difficulty. However, failing to follow your plan can wreck the holidays with symptom flares or an energy crash.

What to do? First, take a deep breath and adopt a no-stress, can-do attitude. Just as at home, good autoimmune management simply requires some advance planning and strategic thinking.

Here are some tips to help you manage your autoimmune condition while traveling.

Map out meals and snacks so you don’t go hungry or trigger a flare. The functional medicine approach to managing an autoimmune disease requires following some variation of the autoimmune diet  This diet is usually a strict Paleo diet of ample produce and healthy meats and fats, and no grains, dairy, soy, sugar, or processed foods.

Google ahead of time to find out where you can eat at your destination. Look for the Whole Foods and other health food stores. Make sure you have a refrigerator in your hotel room or ask your hosts to make space for you in theirs. You can insulate and pack frozen meals to heat up in a mini crockpot, also stowed in your luggage. Some people even pack a hot plate and cookware. Bring a travel bag large enough for approved snack items to stave off hunger. Ideas include beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, coconut meat, and other filling snacks.

Pack plenty of glutathione support. Traveling includes plenty of stressful events that can deplete your glutathione stores. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant and vital to preventing and taming autoimmune flares. Early mornings, long days, new environments, crowded airplanes, Grandma’s fabric softener, and so on — these stressors can deplete glutathione so that inflammation is more likely.

Options include glutathione precursors such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle. You can also take s-acetyl-glutathione, or an oral liposomal glutathione. Note that taking straight glutathione is not effective.

Search ahead for hypoallergenic hotel rooms. Ever walk into a hotel and get blasted with that sickly perfume smell? Some hotels overdo it with the scented products. Others have feather pillows, and dusty, stale rooms. Look for hotels that offer scent-free, allergy-friendly rooms with hypoallergenic bedding, air purifiers, and windows that open.

Carry a mask to avoid pollution or toxic odors. There’s only so much you can do to control your environment while traveling. If the passenger next to you on the packed plane is doused in cologne, it helps to have a face mask handy so you can breathe easier. A good face mask is comfortable and allows you to breathe easily while protecting you from toxins in the air, thus keeping your immune system calmer. Some companies even make face masks  for children.

Don’t let your vacation become work. Schedule in down time to nap, read, or go for peaceful walks. Stress is a powerful inflammatory toxin so it pays to make sure you enjoy your vacation with plenty of rest time.