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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.

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