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COVID-19 Pandemic: My 7 Tips to Keep Your Sanity during Social Distancing

While many, including Bill Gates, have foretold the impact of a global pandemic, COVID-19 is still a surprise to many.  Pandemics are not new and in fact, there have been many throughout American History and throughout world history dating back to 3000 B.C.  Today, we have the benefit of global technology which makes the spread of both accurate and inaccurate information instantaneous.  While Social Media provide many benefits in helping people stay connected, it all magnifies fear in times of uncertainty and crisis. The bright spot, as we in the U.S. prepare for more strict shelter in place restrictions, is that the virus is now contained in China and no new cases have been reported in Wuhan where it first erupted. There are many reasons why COVID-19 has gotten as far out of hand and once we get past the outbreak, I sure that funding for research and control of Pandemics will be on everyone’s mind. For now, we have to stay focused on getting through the next 2 months of social distancing and isolation. Here are my 7 tips for keeping your sanity.
  1. Maintain a Steady Routine
There are two good reasons for maintaining a consistent routine. Since the brain does not like uncertainty, a routine gives you a sense of control over your environment. Uncertainty engages the fight-flight-freeze-appease part of our brains (the amygdala) which can stifle clear thinking. Routines, however, help give you a greater sense of control which creates certainty, what the brain loves. Another good reason is that when you have a sense of certainty, you can think more clearly.  In the front part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, the planning, thinking, social intuition, and emotional control occur. When we create routines and habits, the brain stores those routines in our habit centers (basal ganglia). As a result, routines free up working space in our pre-frontal cortex so that we can think and concentrate better on new tasks and relationships. You can keep your routines simple and practical:
  • 8:00 a.m. Wake up and make your bed
  • 8:30 a.m. Shower and dress
  • 9:00 a.m. Make Breakfast
  • 10:00 a.m. Take a walk for 30 to 45 minutes
  • 11:00 a.m. Read News or Watch TV News for 15 minutes
  • 11:15 a.m. Read a book or watch a Netflix comedy  (You’ve got the idea)
For more ideas check out this New York Times article.
  1. Limit your Daily Exposure to the News
While it is tempting to leave the news streaming all day long, doing so keeps your mind immersed in the fear and panic. I’m not suggesting tuning out and burying your head in the sand. I’m suggesting only short exposure to news. Consider having 2 or 3 checkpoints throughout the day and the rest of the time, if you must have the TV on, through on a comedy or listen to music.  Stay informed, follow the guidelines, but give yourself a mental break from the constant updates. The reality is that until cases peak in the places where the virus is still in its early phases, much of the news is likely to remain negative.  This will just have to run its course.
  1. Stay Connected to Family and Friends (socially distant)
Fortunately, we live in an era of technological connectedness. Make time to video call friends and family and talk each day, especially if you live alone.  Social isolation can be very harmful to the psyche, so reach out and talk to someone. Human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. Loneliness is associated with poor health and higher rates of mortality. There is also evidence that social isolation even without feeling loneliness increases risk.  The effect of social isolation on health appears to be of a similar magnitude to other risks to health, such as high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity.
  1. Cook some nourishing foods but resist the urge to overeat
If you are like me, you cook light meals for dinner most nights and spend Friday and Saturday nights eating out with loved ones. COVID-19 is sending us all back into the kitchen (not just women). Eating out is no longer an option in most locations. So cooking at home with me the new normal for a while. Try to make cooking fun by alternating who does that cooking. There are so many benefits to cooking at home. There was a time when we all came together for dinner. Maybe we’ll keep some of these new habits long after the virus passes. Be careful though, being confined at home will make the refrigerator monster call out your name more frequently. To prevent overeating:
  • Avoid eating from containers: Take out your portions into a dish and stick to that alone.
  • Eat fiber-rich foods that add volume and make you feel
  • Keep track of your calories – I use “MyFitnessPal” from Underarmour.
  • Fill up on protein like eggs and yogurt and healthy fats like avocadoes, nuts, and seeds and reduce or eliminate simple sugars
  • Choose foods with lower glycemic values to keep your blood sugar more balanced
  • Watch your alcohol intake because drinking alcohol may cause overeating by lowering your inhibitions and stimulating your appetite.
  • Drink less sugary beverages and more water: a review of 17 studies found that adults who drank sugar-sweetened beverages with meals consumed 7.8% more food than adults who consumed water with meals.
  • Check-in with yourself. If you feel anxious or depressed, you are more likely to overeat. Spend some time thinking about what triggers your eating and keep a journal.
  1. Self-Care
You’ve heard the flight attendant say that you must first put your mask on in an emergency before you can help others. The same rules apply now. If you don’t take the time to nourish yourself, you won’t be able to help anyone.  Here are some suggested activities:
  • Take a bath with some lit candles and lavender bath salts
  • Run 2 miles a day
  • Mindfulness practice (Join My Free Daily Practice – Click Here For Details)
  • Read a SciFi book or trashy romance novel
  • Have sex (or masturbate if you’re alone) – [Not-so-psychic-prediction: There will be a sudden increase in the birth rate in the next 9 to 16 months.]
  • Keep a reflection journal
  • Do Yoga
  • Dance in your living room
  • Listen to you favorite music with great earphones
  • Call a friend on video and share a cup of coffee together.
  1. Give Everyone Space
When confined in close quarters with others, it’s very easy to feel irritated by what they may be doing.  Lack of personal space is going to be a reality.  You don’t have the escape of going to the office.  Remember that you are not alone and that the others are also sharing the space with you in a new way. You are not accustomed to being together 24 hours a day.  When you feel yourself start to become irritated, step away. Go to another room, put on a headset and change your focus. The impact on children can be even more harmful. Prolonged fears of infection, increased access to screen time, disrupted sleep cycles and reduced physical activity put you and your children at greater risks of mental and physical illnesses.  Make time for physical exercise.
  1. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is a vital component of every person’s overall health and well-being. Sleep is important because it allows the body to repair and be ready for another day. Getting adequate rest may also help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased illness duration. In the best of times, many people have difficulty with sleep. For more information about the impact of sleep and how to get sleep, check out the NIH (National Institute of Health) Website. They offer some “Strategies for Getting Enough Sleep”. No one knows exactly when all the restrictions will be lifted so staying mentally strong and fit is more important than ever.  We can all emerge from this ready to rebuild. Stay Healthy! — Dr. Gina Lepore, MBA has been a licensed holistic health practitioner since 2002 in NY, NJ and CA. She is the CEO-founder of MACH4 Ventures LLC and promotes a holistic view of individual and organizational well being  for over 20 years. She offers coaching, team building and consulting for individuals and organizations.  She is a board certified coach, a Doctor of Chinese Medicine and experienced executive with multiple decades of practical business experience and meditation practice. “When clarity is needed look within.” For a consultation, make an appointment here.