The New Normal: Maintaining Health and Resilience
Updated: May 10, 2020
We are all settling in for the long haul in dealing with the Coronavirus epidemic. It is hard to imagine how different our lives were two months ago and almost impossible to imagine what our lives will be like two months from now. Over the last few weeks, I've talked with hundreds of people about how the epidemic is affecting them and their loved ones. I've also been dealing with coping and adjusting in my own life.
As a medical provider, I spend a lot of time (maybe too much time) reading about what's going on; new treatments, immune-boosting strategies, anxiety management strategies, telemedicine strategies, breathing techniques, sound healing techniques, at home acupressure, etc. I have experienced first hand how overwhelming it can be sifting through the field of information. I wanted to share a few brief things that I think are important right now as we move into the next phase of dealing with this epidemic.
1. Let's physical distance but not social distance. Physical distancing practices and use of protective measures like gloves and masks are going to be with us for an unknown period of time. In light of this, it has never been more important to have contact with others and a sense of community. If you have not yet, reach out and connect with others. Put this in your calendar.
Make a list of people you want to connect with and make it happen. I personally have never talked with my family this much in my adult life and I have reconnected with friends I have not really spoken to outside of social media in years. As an introvert who dislikes talking on the phone, this was a hard process to start but it has really helped me stay grounded in who I am and the overall narrative of my life in the face of all that is happening. Pick up the phone. Support the USPS and write a letter. Organize a Zoom happy hour reunion with your college friends. Join an online group for connecting with other people looking for someone to talk to. Join an online class, or book group! Don't wait for people to reach out to you. Think about who you know who might be extra isolated and reach out to them. Don't be afraid to share a pot of soup with neighbors or surprise a friend with a baked goods drive-by. There are lots of ways to connect with others.
2. Keep focusing on your health. The most important five things to focus on health wise are eating well, getting enough sleep, getting outside every day, getting some exercise every day, and managing stress.
If you can do those five things, your immune system will be able to function optimally. I'd also suggest that you keep up with any supplements you have been prescribed and take it easy on sugar and alcohol. It is also important not to let chronic conditions go unmanaged. This is especially true if you are dealing with mood-related conditions like depression or anxiety. There are plenty of amazing people offering telemedicine. Most holistic physical medicine practitioners are preparing to return to seeing patients who are in need of physical medicine (massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, etc) on a limited basis. If you are suffering while dealing with either acute or chronic issues, reach out and get the care you need but make sure you follow appropriate public health guidelines when you have any appointments.
3. Try to enjoy the slow and the quiet. Literally every person I have spoken to about their Coronavirus experience has faced challenges but has also found things to be grateful for. Many people express a sense of not having realized how busy they were or how much their commute had been wearing on them. Most of my chronically ill patients are feeling better than they have felt in years since they haven't had obligations out in the world and they have finally been able to rest more deeply.
In my own home, though it has been hard keeping a four-year-old engaged without any outside distractions, I have been moved by how my son has slowed down in a way I always wished he would. After weeks without school and classes and play dates and going to different social engagements, he has finally settled into enjoying watching the clouds and imagining what the shapes they look like. He will now watch the fish or bugs in the yard with fascination observing small details that he never would have noticed before. I've found myself able to be more present with him. I'm enjoying staring at the clouds too rather than running off to do a quick chore or respond to an email. I still have plenty of things on my to-do list as I continue to teach and practice medicine and run a business that has to now operate online. My mind is frequently still racing but something in me has shifted. The shell of busyness broke around me once we all started staying home. Like so many, I felt myself suspended in a great pause where my future trajectory was no longer certain. My illusions of control and my fear of missing out crumbled. When I am able to come into the present moment, like my four-year-old watching the clouds, I find that it feels pretty good to move a little slower and take a look at my life from a new angle. I wouldn't have chosen this, but since this is reality now, I'm going to try and embrace it and find as much goodness in it as I can.
5. Wear a mask when you are in a public space. Wearing a mask will not protect you completely but it does provide some amount of protection and some is better than none. When we look at places in the world that adopted large scale mask wearing early on, it does appear that masks played a role is slowing the spread of the virus. In addition, wearing a mask is a symbol that reassures others that you are going to respect their space and that you are doing your part to help keep everyone safe. Many people are having lots of anxiety at this time. When others wear masks and honor physical distancing it allows those people to move about in the world with less fear. Mask wearing takes a bit of getting used to but its really not that inconvenient. I think of it as a new form of etiquette as well as a positive public health measure. Masks are now available for purchase and there are numerous DIY options available online.
6. Get tested. Even if you don't think you have been exposed, I suggest you seek out testing. Large scale testing is going to help us understand the public health scope of this emergency and more information is a good thing. Many MDs and NDs are now offering testing to their patients. Reliability of tests can be an issue but I suggest you reach out to your primary care doc about getting tested and which test they recommend.
4. If you do get infected with COVID 19,don't panic! Panic is not going to help and it will actually make things worse. The following actions are my recommendations if you suspect you have been exposed to COVID 19 or if you start experiencing symptoms. These are general recommendations that are not designed to serve as medical advice. Always consult with your own health care team.
Don't panic (yes it is worth mentioning again).
Reach out to a holistic-minded health care practitioner that you trust IMMEDIATELY. The sooner you start to support your system in a targeted way, the better. Even the FDA has recommended trying CAM therapies to support the immune system at this time. The conventional medical system is overwhelmed right now and they will not be able to do much for you until you are very sick. One of the great strengths of natural medicine is that we have a whole host of strategies for addressing symptoms at all stages of illness. Acute illness is always easiest to treat when you start early and don't let things progress deeper into the body.
Get a pulse oximeter to help you to measure your blood oxygen level and use this as a measure of how you are doing. If your blood O2 drops below 92% you should contact your health care provider and consider going to the hospital even if you don't feel that horrible. At the hospital, you should be able to receive oxygen therapy that is not given through a ventilator (bipap or cpap delivery) to help stabilize your blood oxygen levels.
Don't suppress your fever immediately. Fevers are your body's way of fighting infection.
Do deep breathing practices several times a day to calm your system and improve blood oxygenation. Spend some time on your stomach doing deep breathing. Use mindfulness tools to help stay calm. Stress suppresses the immune system more than just about anything else. Do not do cardiovascular exercises to improve blood oxygenation. You should rest - not exercise.
Do all the things you usually do to recover from a bad cold or the flu - chicken soup, Epson salt baths, warm tea, funny movies, reading poetry. If you need a few tips, check out this link from the Institute for Functional Medicine.
Self-quarantine (meaning no going out even if you have a mask and gloves) for at least 72 hours after all your symptoms have subsided. We are seeing that people with this infection can have symptoms that change and persist for an extended period of time.
Even if your COVID-19 test comes back negative, follow these recommendations if you have symptoms. The tests have too many false negatives and you don't want to spread this around.
5. Let yourself laugh and cry. It is natural to be more emotional right now. Don't suppress your emotions. Allow yourself to sit with them and feel them. Allow them to move and transform. Find ways to laugh even if it feels forced. It releases endorphins and boosts the immune system. Laughter truly is the best medicine. I truly believe that one of the great mysteries and gifts of humanity is the way that we are able to find beauty and joy in the darkest and most dire times. We are, truly, in this strange and world-changing moment together. Let us find the beauty and wisdom to help us move forward with grace, compassion, and wisdom.