In the United States, autoimmune diseases affect 24 million people. Of course, it’s possible to live a full and satisfying life with an autoimmune disorder. However, there are some differences between a day in the life of someone with one of the 80 autoimmune diseases and one without.
For example, if you’re living with an autoimmune disease, you know that bacteria and viruses are your worst enemy, especially if your treatment involves an immune suppressant. You know that a compromised immune system makes every trip to the grocery store, every PTO meeting, and every meal out a risk. You also know that you are more susceptible to irritants than most people, so you always plan accordingly by taking an emergency stash of rash cream, hand sanitizer, and gut-friendly snacks wherever you go.
Your home, however, is a different story. Unlike the outside world, it should be a haven with minimal triggers. It should be a place where you can relax, knowing that you are surrounded by the people and possessions that bring you joy and comfort instead of pain and suffering. You should be able to eat, sleep, and play without worry or fear. Our guide offers several helpful tips on how you can create a space that will let you do just that.
Eliminate Stress at Home
When you are stressed, your immune system kicks into high gear. Stress, especially when it’s prolonged or particularly traumatic, triggers hormones that ultimately lead to inflammation. In addition to affecting your appetite and sleep schedule, stress causes you to age faster, negatively impacts your heart health, and ruins your sleep schedule. While you can’t eliminate stress in every part of your life — think work, school, or your in-law’s place — you can take steps to reduce at-home stress. Start with these tips:
- Reduce clutter. Tidying up a cluttered home doesn’t just free up physical space and give dust, dirt, and germs fewer places to hide. Its benefits also include clearing your mind, freeing up your time, and saving you money. Make time to declutter and organize your home room by room, and you’ll feel the positive effects almost instantly.
- Make room for meditation. Meditation is an accessible way to address stress. You don’t need a prescription from a doctor, fancy equipment, or loads of time to do it. The practice of measured breathing and repeated mantras can be done by anyone, anywhere. That said, having a dedicated space to practice meditation may make it easier for you to reap the rewards of consistently practicing it. So, consider transforming a clutter-free corner of your home or a spare room into a soothing space with calming paint colors, candles, and a few of your favorite belongings.
Stock Your Kitchen with Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Diet is not just important for people with celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. The food you eat — and everything else you put on or in your body — has the potential to either soothe or trigger your uncomfortable symptoms. Since the “Western diet” is considered a possible cause of autoimmune disorders, it’s easy to understand why it may also be part of the cure. That’s why doctors agree that following an autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is the first step anyone with an autoimmune disease should take. Here are just a few ways to keep your kitchen stocked with the right foods:
- Get rid of gluten. For people with autoimmune diseases, a gluten-free diet is more than just a fad; it’s a necessity. The protein causes inflammation and provokes an immune response in just about everyone, even if you haven’t experienced a noticeable negative response. Gluten is also a common ingredient in personal care products and can be absorbed through your skin, so check the bathroom, too!
- Reduce sugar. Bacteria and yeast feed off the carbohydrates in sugar, which can cause infections and worsen symptoms. Just because you need to cut sugar out of your diet doesn’t mean life can’t still be sweet. Swap processed sugar for natural alternatives, like monk fruit, honey, maple syrup, and molasses.
- Avoid BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical frequently found in plastic kitchenware, is an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to autoimmunity. To avoid exposure, store, cook, and serve food in BPA-free Acceptable alternatives include glass and ceramic vessels.
- Consider probiotics. The connection between your immune system and your gut health is a well-documented one. Probiotic supplements may help regulate your microbiome, but they can also have adverse effects. So, talk to your doctor about whether adding a probiotic supplement to your diet could help.
Create a Workout Space
Staying active is a key tactic for controlling your autoimmune disorder. A low-impact workout can do wonders for your energy level, boost endorphins, and reduce inflammation. Creating an exercise room at home makes it easier to stay active, and it prevents exposure to bacteria and viruses at gyms and fitness centers. You also don’t expend any extra time or energy getting there, and you don’t have to worry about judgment from others for going your own pace. Here are a few features every home gym should have:
- The right gym flooring – You want something that has a little bounce, but it should also be easy to clean and install. Carpet, rubber, foam, vinyl, and cork all have their pros and cons, so do your research, and pick the one that works best for your workout needs.
- The right equipment – A full-body workout consists of strength-training, cardio, core muscle-strengthening, and flexibility exercises. Choose at least one piece of home gym equipment to meet each of those needs. For a small space, that may mean a set of dumbbells, a fold-up treadmill, an exercise ball, and a yoga mat.
- The right perks – Make sure your space is designed in a way that makes you want to work out. If you love music, invest in a Bluetooth speaker that you can blast while you sweat. If watching TV helps you forget the clock, set up a laptop or flat screen in the space. If you have kids you need to entertain so you can fit your workout in, pack a corner with floor pillows, coloring books, and toys that will keep them occupied.
Build a Restful Bedroom
The quantity and quality of sleep you get has a direct impact on your autoimmune disease. Too little sleep or poor-quality rest damages your metabolism, causes you to crave carbs and sugar, and can even increase your appetite. On the other hand, plenty of rest can improve your overall health and reverse inflammation. A well-designed bedroom can help you wind down at the end of your day, and it should include the following features:
- Satisfactory sleep surface – The right mattress is, arguably, the most important component of a good night’s sleep. Be sure to select the correct firmness and size for you and your partner to rest comfortably. You should also hire a professional to clean your mattress regularly, and replace it every seven years. Otherwise, it can become overrun with dust mites, pet dander, and viruses that can trigger your symptoms.
- Less light – Light affects our circadian rhythm and melatonin production. Soft lights are fine to use in the bedroom, but you should avoid bright lights close to bedtime. Install a dimmer, or use smart bulbs in existing fixtures to control how much light you’re getting. You can also install blackout curtains to block out the early morning or late evening sun if you want to go to bed earlier or wake up later.
- Some sound – It doesn’t need to be entirely silent for you to get good Try to eliminate outside noises, like traffic and trains right outside your window, which you can do by installing sound-dampening materials on walls. Some people sleep better with white noise from a sound machine or an app on a smartphone or tablet.
- Tepid temperature – If it’s too hot or too cold, you won’t sleep well. Aim for a temperature of 60 to 67 degrees If you don’t have one already, installing a smart thermostat will allow you to set the temperature automatically. Pick a smart thermostat that is right for the size of your home and your budget.
- Easy entertainment – Screens emit blue light that makes it difficult for us to fall asleep. Instead of TV or phone time before bed, consider entertainment that is easier on the eyes. Reading a book, listening to music, or enjoying a glass of warm milk are much more relaxing options.
Test for and Remove Toxins
Last, but not least, it’s important to be sure that your home itself is not making you feel unwell. The water and air in your home, as well as the construction materials inside your walls, can negatively impact your health if they are filled with the wrong materials. While these situations are relatively uncommon, you should be aware of the risk.
- Air – The air you breathe in your home should be clean and fresh. Prevent mold growth and other common problems by taking good care of your HVAC system. Change your air filter regularly, and hire a pro to clean your air ducts You can also invest in a standalone air purifier with a HEPA filter or a whole-home filtration system.
- Water – The quality of your drinking water is another potential concern, especially since pollutants like arsenic are difficult to detect without proper testing. If you are worried about the quality of your water, a water filtration system could be the answer.
- Construction materials – If you live in an older home, you are more likely to be exposed to harmful chemicals like lead, asbestos, and mercury. While sickness from these materials is rare, you should be aware of the symptoms and risk factors, as well as what to do if you suspect any of these are present in your home.
In actuality, it takes a lot of work to create a home that soothes your symptoms, prevents flare-ups, and supports your immune system. Every room and routine will more than likely need at least a few tweaks. Of course, your doctor can provide you with a comprehensive list of ways to manage your specific illness with the least amount of discomfort, but these ideas are a great place to get started.