This week marks the official “Back to School” week for my kids and many other kids around the US. Some of you have already been back at school, but when it’s after Labor Day, it’s definitely back to the school year. Or in our house as we say, “Back to school…..back to sniffles.” I know the first month or so back to school is tough on my girls’ immune systems, and I’ll do everything in my power to prevent illness from taking hold.
I’ve learned over the last few years that there are some very important parts of my daily routines and house habits that can drastically improve our chances of staying healthy. I firmly believe that our houses can be a great building block to help keep us and our immune systems healthy. Supporting your immune system and your kids’ immune systems can be the difference between a miserable school year or a positively enjoyable school year.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think illness can be completely avoided, but I do think it can be prevented and I believe our bodies are stronger when we give them the right tools. There’s always an inevitable cold or virus here and there -- and I have come to expect that. What I used to expect was having someone sick every other week in my house. After changing some of our routines and working hard to make healthier choices, I no longer see weeks upon weeks of illness in the winter.
Obviously a lot of staying healthy has to do with getting proper nutrition and sleep, but today I also want to share with you some ways your actual house and home environment can help support your family’s immune system. Just a few small changes to daily habits can make all the difference.
LEAVE SHOES AT THE DOOR
I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll keep reiterating it over and over. Leaving your shoes at the door is one of your best defenses against allergens, bacteria and viruses from entering your home. But now let’s up the ante -- leaving coats that have rolled around the playground and backpacks that have sat on the bus floor in a mud room of sorts will also help.
Creating a space for your family to drop their belongings from work and school (including coats, shoes and bags) will help keep the germiest surfaces out of your living spaces.
Some of the best tools you can utilize when it comes to creating a drop space are:
CLEAN OUT BACKPACKS DAILY
Speaking of backpacks -- if you have kids, you know that these things are filled with all kinds of unappealing finds. And you just never know where these little gems have been. They sit on the school floor, get shuffled down the grimy hallway and sit on the bus floor. They also get filled with items that may have excess moisture, such as food, clothing or outdoor apparel. Finally they end up in our homes. And when they sit sealed up the moisture can quickly cause objects to grow mold and mildew.
A great daily routine is to completely clean out the contents of backpacks every night after school. This ensures that nothing will get forgotten and cause unexpected problems.
WASH HANDS RIGHT AWAY OR PROVIDE A WATERLESS OPTION
Having a station right next to the door where you can have a pump of waterless hand purifier is a great way to minimize some problematic germs and viruses from coming in. I keep a little basket right inside the door with things like sunscreen, waterless hand purifier, wipes and other essentials we use right before we leave or right when we walk in.
Now that my kiddos are older, however, we’ve made it a habit to wash hands the second we enter the house. This helps minimize germs and bacteria from coming in.
AIR OUT YOUR HOUSE ON A REGULAR BASIS
Homes, especially those in cooler climates, can easily become stuffy and closed up. There are very few air exchanges happening throughout the day. This means the indoor air is not being replaced with outdoor air very often. Back when houses were built less efficiently, the home’s air would leak in and out through gaps in siding and trim. While this is not energy efficient at all, it did mean that the home was getting much more fresh air than homes built today.
Due to homes being much more energy efficient now, it’s important that we air out our homes to bring in fresh air to dilute our stale air inside. Indoor air is often times much more polluted than outside air due to our chemical-laden products, cleaning solutions and gas appliances. If you have an air-to-air exchanger, you don’t need to worry about airing out your home as much.
CREATE A TECHNOLOGY-FREE AREA FOR DOWNTIME
We know that our bodies and minds need rest aside from sleep, and kids are no different. The stimuli from the day at school can often become overwhelming, especially in the hours after school, near dinner time. We also know that when the body and brain is feeling stress, higher levels of cortisol can be produced, which can affect moods, blood pressure and brain function.
For this reason, it’s important to have a technology-free space for your child to unwind in. Whether it’s a peaceful space to read a book, journal or do something else they love, these low-stimuli spaces help give the brain and body the down time they need.
Another idea is to have an area for creativity to flow. A small table or desk where they can be creative without having many boundaries put on their creativity is a great way to unwind. A body that’s producing less cortisol is going to be a healthier body both short term and long term. Allowing your home to have a tech-free space to unwind will be a great tool and create a good habit for the future.
UTILIZE ESSENTIAL OILS & DIFFUSERS
While there are many ways to use essential oils, using your diffuser to promote a particular feeling or support a particular system of the body is a great way to make your home a healthier place. Essential oils are extracted from plants and herbs and are extremely concentrated, giving our bodies and immune systems much needed support. Plus essential oils are toxin free and chemical free, which means not only are you supporting your body’s health, but you’re also reducing chemicals at the same time.
The Thieves Essential Oil blend is a great way to support your family’s immune system this school year. This blend has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help reduce your illness this year.
Another oil that is particularly helpful during the stressful school year is Frankincense. Frankincense has many properties, but one of them is the ability to reduce stress and anxiety. We know through different studies done how bad stress and anxiety is for all of us, but especially children who are continuing to develop.
Bergamot is another great essential oil to help promote emotional well-being. It can help reduce the emotional stress that comes along with school starting once again. It’s been studied and shown that it can actually reduce negative-feelings and promote a feeling of happiness.
CREATE A RESTORATIVE SLEEP SANCTUARY
Sleep is probably your family’s number one friend when it comes to staying healthy this school year. Sleep not only restores the body, but also helps those developing brains and can help emotional stability. But getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Children with a room filled with electronics might have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep.
The same is true for a room with dust and dust mites for a child who has asthma or allergies. There are many ways you can make a room more conducive to sleep and in particular, restorative sleep. And creating a room that’s more of a sleep sanctuary and less of a playroom is often times the key. My blog post a few weeks back about creating a sleep sanctuary for your child goes through each way you can improve their space.
A quick an easy checklist for creating a night-time oasis where your child can rest and be restored can help you during the hustle and bustle of back to school.
BONUS: ACTIVATED CARBON FILTERS TO REDUCE VIRUSES AND BACTERIA
Your forced air furnace and HVAC system can be a huge tool to be used in your favor. By reducing the amount of dust, bacteria and viruses that travel through your ductwork, you can reduce the amount of germs your family comes in contact with. Not to mention reduce the strain put on the immune system by the dust, dander and bacteria that can quickly come into your house and cycle through.
Keeping your ducts cleaned once every two years is a great start. But changing your filter every six months is a simple, inexpensive habit to start. I recommend a Merv 12 furnace filter made of activated carbon or charcoal to help reduce allergens, bacteria and viruses as they travel throughout the vents in your home.