If it feels like you can’t open social media, the news, or the door without reading or hearing about COVID-19…
And you’re still not really sure what’s going on, what to do, or how concerned you should be…
You’re not alone.
With the speed at which things are changing and developing, this is a time of universal uncertainty that can feel almost impossible to navigate.
There’s a delicate balance to strike in times like these. We know that panic and fear will not help us, but we also want to make sure that we’re taking the situation seriously. And I know that staying calm through a pandemic is easier said than done!
Many of my patients have expressed fear, anxiety, helplessness, and confusion about this new coronavirus, and I completely understand all of these feelings. Although the situation is changing quickly, and none of us have all the facts about this virus, I hope to help by shining some light on what I think are the most important things to be mindful of during this time.
I will also provide some clear, manageable suggestions for boosting your immunity, supporting your friends, family, and the global community, and taking care of yourself.
Before we dive into these areas, here are a few simple guidelines for staying safe and helping to reduce the spread of the virus:
1. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time, regularly, or use hand sanitizer if unavailable.
2. Cover coughs and sneezes, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
3. Cancel any non-essential travel and avoid crowds.
4. If you experience symptoms that do not require urgent medical care, stay home and phone your doctor’s office (telemedicine has become a new way of treating patients and it is covered by insurance as of last week. I am starting to do this for my patients).
5. If you’re not feeling well, stay home and rest, unless your condition requires emergency medical care.
6. Gather enough essentials to last for 30 days in case of quarantine.
7. Check for local, public health guidelines for more information about what’s being recommended in your area.
I won’t get too deep into the numbers of individuals who have tested positive for the virus or regions to which it has spread, as these are changing rapidly, and at a certain point are not necessarily the most helpful thing for everyone to be focusing on.
Numbers aside, here are some of the things we know so far about COVID-19:
1. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause different kinds of illnesses, including the common cold and more serious respiratory infections. COVID-19 is a specific coronavirus that is new to humans.
2. While it was originally being called an outbreak, and then an epidemic, COVID-19 has now been characterized as a pandemic due to the wide geographic area and proportion of the population that have been affected.
3. The virus can live on surfaces from 24 hours to 2-3 days, depending on the surface and may survive for up to 3 hours in the air, but is thought to spread primarily between people who are in close contact with each other, through respiratory droplets.
4. MOST people who contract the virus will show no symptoms, or mild symptoms, the most common of which are fever and cough. Shortness of breath may also occur.
5. Symptoms may show up anywhere between 3 and 13 days after contracting the virus.
6. Individuals who are at the highest risk are the older adult population, and/or those who have an underlying condition that may compromise their immune system.
7. In severe cases, COVID-19 may lead to more serious conditions or death.
8. Travel restrictions, cancelled events, and quarantining measures are being put in place in order to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.
9. Researchers from around the world are working together to share clinical research and data that may help us to better understand this virus, and trials are underway to evaluate potential vaccines and treatments.
How to Naturally Boost Your Immune System
The BEST protection against any virus is a strong, healthy immune system. A healthy immune system is essential for our health in general, and is something we should strive to maintain at all times.
The good news is, there are a number of steps you can take to naturally boost and support your immune system, and you can take these steps right away.
Keep in mind that these suggestions don’t replace important hygiene practices or medical care, and your physician should be consulted if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep weakens the immune system, and a good night’s rest does wonders to keep it functioning well. If you’ve had to cancel travel plans or events, use that time to rest and get a solid 8 hours of quality sleep!
Practice meditation and/or other mindfulness techniques. Meditation has been shown to help with sleep, and may also help to keep you feeling calm during this time of uncertainty (more on that later).
Get regular, moderate exercise. Exercise helps with immune system function, but don’t overdo it – you don’t want to run yourself down. Choose more gentle, moderate forms of exercise that make you feel good.
Consider supplements that help with immune function. Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for the immune system, and the majority of adults in the US have insufficient levels. Vitamin C also helps to support a healthy immune system, and can be found in high levels in citrus fruits, peppers, berries, and tomatoes as well as in supplement form. Other supplements and herbs that may help to support healthy immune system function include fish oil, Vit A, probiotics, zinc, licorice root, and oregano oil. Speak with your practitioner prior to introducing new supplements.
Eat nourishing, immune boosting foods like homemade chicken soup, garlic, and ginger. Make sure to include lots of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables that are filled with antioxidants and other powerful nutrients to support immune function.
Try fermented foods, and include ingredients with antiviral properties like coconut oil, ginger, garlic, oregano, pomegranate, and apple cider vinegar.
Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, and mix it up with herbal teas or powerful, immune boosting bone broth.
Avoid sugar and processed food products. Eating simple/refined sugar significantly lowers immune system function within 30 minutes, and the effects can last for hours. Avoiding sugar is one of the best ways to keep your immune system healthy and powerful.
Practice stress management. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, nature walks, or bubble baths, find ways to care for yourself and reduce or manage stress. Stress lowers immune system function and makes us more likely to get sick. Remember that self-care, in times like these or anytime, is not a selfish act! Keep in mind that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
My hope is that we as a nation can learn something from the spread of this virus, and see this not only as a wake-up call but as an opportunity to take collective action when it comes to the health of our population and of ourselves.
The troubling reality is that roughly 6 out of 10 Americans have at least one diagnosed chronic disease. Unfortunately, this makes us something of an at-risk population. I don’t say this to cause alarm, but because I hope this information can help us to come together and address the wellbeing of our communities!
Boosting your immune system may not stop the spread of COVID-19, but it can help to lower your personal risk and the risk for those around you. And the more individuals who take steps to support immune system function and optimal health, the healthier and better equipped we will become as a nation.
How to support your community
This brings me to my next set of thoughts! I know that many people are thinking about their friends, family members, and community members during this time, and I’ve been truly touched by the kindness and generosity I’ve seen both online and in my community as we come together to slow the spread of the virus and protect our most vulnerable, and those affected in other ways by the pandemic.
If you’re thinking about how to help, you’re already halfway there! To start with, one of the most important and basic things you can do to help is to continue to take precautions in order to limit the spread of the virus. Washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, and limiting travel helps to lower the risk for everyone around you.
If there are people in your life or your community who are more vulnerable (those with serious underlying medical conditions and older adults), check in on them and make sure they have all of the things they need with them at home.
Many people are being affected by COVID-19 in other ways, even if they haven’t contracted the virus. The closing of schools, businesses, and events in various communities has put a strain on families who rely on schools for childcare while they’re at work or for daily meals, on small business owners, and on those who are unable to do their jobs from home.
Reach out to those in your community who may be affected in one of these ways, and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Reach out to your neighbors and to your loved ones near and far, and let them know you’re thinking about them. Supporting each other is one of the most important things we can do.
How to stay calm
With the nonstop media coverage and social media posts related to COVID-19, it can be challenging to know how to stay informed without being submerged in an endless stream of panic-inducing news reports.
We all want to do our best to understand the situation as it progresses, and to stay informed, but it’s important to also make sure we’re taking care of ourselves, and continuing to move forward.
How can we remain calm and reduce feelings of anxiety during this time? For one thing, I think it’s important to limit news and social media consumption. Try to be more intentional about what you’re reading, why, and how often. I recommend looking at trusted and reputable sources of information like the World Health Organization and CDC updates, and limiting your time spent with both news media and social media.
If you’re spending more time at home than usual, try to bring elements of calm into your space. Try diffusing calming essential oils like lavender or peppermint, and taking time to stretch and to take deep breaths, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes.
Practice focusing on the things you have more control over (like limiting travel, avoiding crowds, washing your hands, and eating nourishing, immune system boosting foods), rather than focusing too much on the parts of the situation that are beyond your reach.
Remember that the fact that travel restrictions are being put in place and events are being cancelled doesn’t need to be a cause for panic. We’re taking positive steps and precautions as a global community in order to slow the spread of the virus, and get the situation under control, for everyone.
Yes, this is worse than the flu, but how much is the question. It is suspected that the numbers of those affected are much higher than we know, therefore the mortality rate is much lower than reported. Know that 80% of people recover.
We’re all in this together. Continue to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and just do what you can do. AND know that this too will pass, hopefully with some very important lessons learned on many levels.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD