The COVID-19 pandemic has created collective trauma unlike the world has ever seen. Entire communities, states, and even countries have been locked down. Some have been in quarantine or lockdown for weeks, for others it’s just begun in the last week. Many of us know, or will know, someone who is impacted or high risk for complications, or it may even be us. We’re all adjusting to new, restricted, and isolated ways of life, many even losing jobs and income. This trauma is both personal and public, close to home and widespread.
The silver lining is that, for the first time in a long time, our interconnectedness is shining through. Though we may play different roles, live differently, and have different resources, we are all in this together. The world as a whole is rising to this challenge and finding new ways to connect, help, and even thrive.
Companies are pivoting and individuals are banding together to fill gaps in necessities like personal protective equipment for overwhelmed hospitals and high-risk people, and to raise money and share resources where they’re most needed. This traumatic time is fostering a stronger sense of community for many of us, reminding us to reconnect, and showing us new ways to be close through virtual meetings, remote work, online playdates, and family and friend group chats.
At a time like this, there are two major pieces of advice I like to share with my patients, two things I’d like to encourage them to focus on.
1. Be vigilant, prepared, and responsible, but don’t panic.
We are bombarded by information 24/7 and it takes just a few minutes of tuning in for our anxiety to spike and our stress levels to soar. This doesn’t do us any favors in protecting ourselves and can lead to rash decisions, fuel stigma, and lead us to take steps that are counterproductive. Here are a few of my tips for staying safe and sane through the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Know the symptoms and take steps if needed. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are: fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness (fatigue), and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing. For those who are high risk — people with heart, liver, kidney, or lung disease or diabetes, pregnant women, those who are immunocompromised, and those over the age of 65 — these symptoms can worsen and complications can arise as the disease progresses. If you have or develop these symptoms, call your healthcare professional for guidance and next steps right away, especially if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s sick within the past 2-14 days. You should also begin self-isolating/quarantining to protect others, even before you get tested.
- Take precautions and protective measures.
- Wash your hands often with SOAP and water. There are plenty of different video tutorials flying around so I’ll spare you.
- DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE, especially in public or if it’s been awhile since you washed your hands.
- Keep at least 6 feet of distance from others at all times in public spaces and wear a mask whenever possible.
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces, especially hard plastic and stainless steel often.
- Get facts and updates from trustworthy sources. This is a big one! There’s a lot of misinformation, confusion, and speculation making its way around the internet right now. It’s enough to make anyone’s blood pressure shoot up and their head spin, not to mention get in the way of making smart, informed decisions.
- Limit being glued to your television screens.
- Limit the amount of attention you give to the news, honestly it’s A LOT.
- Be sure to follow the mandates of your local government and guidance of your healthcare provider.
- Keep it simple. Stay informed but don’t bombard yourself.
2. Take this opportunity to recommit to your overall health in a holistic way.
These uncertain times are opening up the space for a lot of us to pause and return to the core of what good health is about. This not only equips us to better fight off illnesses when exposed, but also supports our general well-being through and beyond this difficult time. Listen, the truth is at some point in time, we all might be exposed to the virus. Many have been exposed and are now carriers with no symptoms, some have been exposed and have been experiencing mild symptoms and then there are those individuals who have unfortunately developed complications. In effort to not bore you with what I actually find fascinating- in simple terms- a virus relies on our cells. We can’t kill a virus because viruses aren’t alive. What we can do is create an undesirable environment for this virus within our bodies first by ensuring optimal health.
Here are just a few things you can integrate into your foundation for better health:
Eat a nutritious and balanced diet. Remember that food is fuel and it’s the best source of essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats, and other vital nutrients. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, limit added sugars, and processed food. This helps you create a strong baseline from which to combat acute disease and prevent chronic conditions. Some great ones to make sure you’re including are:
- Good sources of vitamin A or provitamin A (beta-carotene), such as dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, salmon, liver, cod liver oil, mackerel and red bell peppers.
- Foods high in vitamin C– papayas, oranges, strawberries, kale, bok choy, and spinach, broccoli and bell peppers.
- Vitamin D-rich foods, like egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, trout, and other fatty fish (Getting 15-20mins of sunlight on your skin will also help your body produce vitamin D).
- Foods high in Zinc, including seafood, sea vegetables, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, and other legumes.
ALSO, if you have been following me on Instagram you’ll know I’m a huge fan of GARLIC. Consume fresh garlic!
Get plenty of Zzzzz. Maybe this should have been mentioned first because sleep is critical for mental and cognitive health, muscle recovery, cell turnover, and an overall functioning immune system. It’s a key component of a healthy lifestyle, and more important now than ever. Aim for at least 7 hours a night, if you can. If you have been struggling with sleep issues for a while or it has become an issue in the last few weeks, I encourage you to check in with your doctor about potential solutions.
Minimize stress. Stress negatively impacts the immune system, promotes chronic inflammation, and makes it harder to fight off pathogens and disease. But lowering stress levels can be easier said than done, especially at a time like this.
Maybe you’re dealing with the stress of juggling teaching your out-of-school child and working from home for the first time, uncertain about the future of your job, or caring for elderly or high-risk loved ones. Or maybe you’re high-risk yourself.
This isn’t a time for you to be self-critical. Things have slowed down for sure, it certainly doesn’t mean that you must be productive every single minute of every single day. No! You may find some days are better than others, and that’s okay. Find whatever healthy outlet or self-care practice that helps you reduce your stress levels. Meditate and/or do breathing exercise, practice yoga, go for a walk, dance, start and keep a journal, watch or read something that makes you laugh, talk to a loved one. As I’ll get into in more detail later, it’s crucial to reach out and connect with those closest to you at a time like this.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is another key component of a strong immune system, stress relief, and general physical and mental health. It releases endorphins, delivers more oxygen to your brain, boosts mood, and may be vital for warding off heart disease, dementia, diabetes and depression, among others.
Thirty minutes a day of moderate cardio or strength training exercise is excellent to aim for, but start with moving your body as much and as well as you can, on a daily basis. DON’T have to get all fancy for the gram! Don’t have to have your best outfit on with a magical yoga mat, and fancy equipment! There are plenty of instagram pages I can share with you for some inspiration, just move. There will be days where you simply will not want to workout and that’s OK…put some music on and dance instead.
Stay connected with your loved ones and social support networks. So many of our communities are under “shelter in place” or similar orders necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, with all but the essentials being off limits. Many other organizations have already switched to a remote work model.
This means you may be missing out on the daily social interactions you were used to, and finding yourself isolated and vulnerable to the emotional toll it can take. Prolonged loneliness is detrimental to emotional well-being, especially at an already traumatic time like this. It’s important to do what you can to maintain contact with those you care about.
Talk on the phone, video chat, do whatever works for you and those close to you to feel in touch with one another. Stay in contact with your local community through message boards, email lists, and/or social media, if needed.
You can also get more involved and purposeful. Support your local businesses by buying gift certificates if there’s an option, and see if you can tap into any initiatives they might have going on to provide help and relief to others. For example, some might be donating funds to those who are out of work, or delivering food to hospital workers. Others might be providing supplies for masks and need someone with a sewing machine and skills to do the work of making them.
Again, Don’t be too hard on yourself. While I encourage you to use this time to establish healthy patterns and habits, I also urge you to be kind to yourself. This is all very new for most of us. We are all feeling, thinking, fretting, bumbling our way through as best we can. You do not have to be perfect, you do not need to have all the answers, and you shouldn’t berate yourself or be too hard on yourself when you get something “wrong”. Don’t add to your mental burden by being overly critical of how you’re handling a situation that none of us knows quite what to do with. The good news here is that telehealth / virtual therapy is well-established and becoming more widely available.
Whether you’re already a patient of mine or are looking to take the first few steps towards optimal health, reach out! Like many providers I have transitioned to telemedicine and am still very much available to you and your families. I expect that you start thinking about the steps above and begin implementation but I do encourage you to have a physician on board your healthcare team who is well versed and trained in herbal medicine, nutrition and its interactions with pharmaceuticals. Supplementation is great, but the RIGHT supplements with the RIGHT dose, for YOU!