5 Mood-Lifting Tips to Boost Your Response to Vaccination
Mar 08, 2021 Cedars-Sinai Staff
With COVID-19 vaccination efforts officially underway, you may be wondering if there's anything you can do to boost your body's immune response to the vaccine. It turns out, a growing body of research suggests that mood matters when you're about to get vaccinated.
"Our emotions are deeply connected to our bodies," says Dr. Itai Danovitch, a psychiatrist at Cedars-Sinai. "So interventions that improve our emotional state, our mood, also have an impact on our physical health and our immunity."
"During a pandemic, it's more important than ever to protect our ability to fight a virus by supporting both physical and mental health"
Dating back to 2006, researchers noted that people who self-identified as "energetic," "cheerful" or "relaxed" produced a much greater antibody response to the hepatitis B vaccine than those who described themselves "nervous," "tense" or "angry." More recent studies suggest that shifting your mood on the day of immunization could produce a small but important effect on the way your body reacts to vaccination.
Getting ready to step in line for your first (or second) dose of the COVID-19 vaccine? Try these feel-good strategies to get an edge in terms of producing antibodies:
It's no secret that stress blunts the immune system's response to vaccinations. The flood of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol can interfere with the body's ability to produce antibodies. The best way to combat stress: Take a deep breath and get plenty of rest.
"When we're anxious or afraid, we become short of breath, which feeds our anxiety," Dr. Danovitch says. "Meditation and deep breathing diminish stress signaling so we feel calmer and more at ease."
Try this: Inhale through your nose for a count of five and feel your belly, ribs and chest expand. Then exhale through your nose for a count of eight and feel the muscles of your chest, ribs and lower belly contract.
Sleep is important, too
In a study of healthy adults, those who slept seven hours or more each night showed a more robust immune response to the hepatitis B vaccination compared to those who got six hours or less. The reason: Deep sleep helps the immune system build up a memory for the threats it encounters while we're awake. Just don't rely on alcohol to help you relax. Heavy drinking can certainly interfere with the vaccine's efficacy.
Developing and maintaining social connections is essential to health and wellbeing—and studies show that people who have strong social networks respond better to immunizations. Unfortunately, in the age of COVID-19, getting your daily dose of love can be a challenge.
"It's a balancing act to maintain physical distancing requirements and meet our emotional needs to connect, have fun or even commiserate with loved ones," Dr. Danovitch says.
The good news: Video calls and especially a 6-foot-distanced hike or run with a friend can help fill your emotional cup.
Better yet, spend your time socially connecting by helping other people. Whether you donate pizzas to first responders, send a gift card to someone who lost a loved one or deliver flowers to an elderly neighbor, stepping up to help loved ones or strangers can boost your happiness quotient.
Whether you're healthy or battling a disease, there's no doubt that exercise is potent medicine. Not only does regular physical activity support a healthy immune system, but it also releases feel-good hormones that help counteract stress.
Want to get more bang for your buck? Take your workouts outdoors. "Getting outside and particularly immersed in nature is good for mood," Dr. Danovitch says.
While scientists haven't been able to explain how or why spending time in nature enhances wellbeing, immune-boosting vitamin D could play an important role.
Take stock of your riches and tell friends, loved ones and colleagues how much you value them. Give thanks for the food on your plate and the roof over your head. It doesn’t matter how you express your gratitude, whether by letter, email or a silent prayer. What matters is that you count your blessings instead of focusing on what's lacking.
Striking a Balance
The research is clear: Positive health behaviors, solid nutrition and a good outlook on life are associated with improved immune function. These same behaviors may also lead to an improved immune response following vaccination.
Whether you're preparing for vaccination or not, you want your immune response to be healthy and balanced. The idea is to create the best conditions for your body to fight the disease and then revert to coasting. One way to achieve that balance is by managing our emotions and behaviors.
"Unfortunately, a clinical depression may impact the body's ability to mount an optimal immune response," Dr. Danovitch says. "During a pandemic, it's more important than ever to protect our ability to fight a virus by supporting both physical and mental health."
While it can be difficult to cultivate a good mood during a global pandemic, being intentional about achieving a balanced immune system through good nutrition, sufficient sleep and joyful activities may help prepare your body—not just to build antibodies after vaccination, but to sidestep other health problems.