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What you CAN do - COVID19


Given all the distressing news, the uncertainty, and the fear around the global state of corona virus pandemic, it's understandable that a lot of us have been feeling quite anxious and helpless. It's only natural to feel overwhelmed by the gravity and the scale of this situation as well as powerless, feeling like it's all beyond our control and there really is nothing we, as individuals, can do about it.

And a lot of it is, indeed, beyond our control. As a single individual, you have no power to annihilate the virus once and for all. You also have no power over things like who sneezes at you and whether or not that person had been infected. You have very little power over what the government is doing... or not doing. Many experts claim that COVID19 will eventually reach everyone of us, it's just a matter of time. It might seem like we have a very little control over that. It might seem like you, as a single person, have very little power over the world's population... You can't, after all wave a magic wand and make everyone behave a certain way over another.

But it's important to remember that you are a prat of this population. And therefore your actions do matter. Even as a single individual. And there actually is quite a lot that depends on YOU.

I believe that it's absolutely paramount, especially in times like this, to focus on all the things we actually CAN control. And do our best to put our energy into doing those things instead of into propelling our anxious thoughts over things that are out of our control. Those thoughts are justified and it's okay to have them. The important thing, however, is not to let them get the best of you. And that you can do by taking action, which has been said to be one of the best antidotes to anxiety.

In this unique situation, you may even say that we are actually quite fortunate, because those actions are really very simple. No one is asking you to join the army and fight on the front line. It really is about the little things. The little things each of us can do to protect ourselves and those little things can have big effects. You don't have to do much, just do the right things. And by protecting yourself, you're actually protecting others as well. It's a ripple effect in so many ways.

If you don't get infected now you're helping to flatten the curve.* If your immune system is strong when you do get infected not only will you symptoms be milder and you will feel better than you would if your body wasn't as strong, but that will also mean that you won't need extra special medical care and therefore the hospital bed, medical equipment and medical practitioner's care that would need to go to you can go to someone who maybe isn't as strong and as young as you are. It's a win-win-win situation. You don't get sick or only get mildly sick (benefits you), the medical care can be given to someone who's more in need of it (benefits another) and you're helping to flatten the curve (benefits all of us).

*scroll all the way down if you don't know the meaning of "faltering the curve"



WHAT CAN YOU DO?

So what can and should you, as an individual, do?


First let's go though the obvious- social distancing and hand washing- things we've heard over and over again for the past couple of weeks. And then we'll get into the less obvious, but equally important things.


Social Distancing and Self-Quarantine


Social distancing and self-quarantine are both very good ways to slow down the spreading of the virus. Stay home if you can. If you can work from home, do so and make sure to remember how fortunate you are to be able to do so. Some people can't work from home and have therefore lost their jobs, others continue going to work and therefore make it possible for the rest of us to stay safe at home. Let's practice gratitude and respect for them. The doctors, the delivery guys and gals, the grocery shop assistants and so on. They all have to GO to work and their work is a service to all of us who get to stay home.


Remember that self-quarantine is NOT vacation.

This is especially for the kids out there, but (unfortunately) not only the youth... We're not going to school/work because of a world-wide lock-down; this is not the time to go out and hang out with your friends. That's the opposite of social distancing.

Most of us don't enjoy being told what to do, especially if it goes against our basic human nature, but this is an important time and it's now that we need to tap into our more evolved brain parts, see the big picture and realize that we are totally able to not give in to our basic urges to socialize. For some of us it's easier than for others, for many different reasons, but we are all capable of practicing a little bit of delayed gratification.

Having said that, remember that social distancing refers to meeting people in person. Realize how fortunate we are to be going through all this today and not 20 years ago. With all the wonderful technology we have at our disposal. So, yes, by all means, do connect with all your significant others whom you don't live with, just use your smartphone to do so.


And once again, please, stay home as much as you can. And if you need to go into a public space (for instance to buy food) make sure you do it as rarely as possible and be cautious- don't touch things if you don't have to, and if possible do keep at least 6 ft/2 m distance from other people.



WASH YOUR HANDS, for 20 seconds, with soap!


It really is as simple as that. 20 seconds, warm water, soap. (Make sure you don't let the water running for the whole 20 seconds, though!).

The 20 seconds have been shown to be the time needed for the soap to do its magic and bind to the virus well enough to remove it from our skin as we rinse our hands.


If you're curious as to how it works, I recommend this video.




WHAT ELSE?


Even with washing your hands and social distancing there is still a lot that's beyond your control and there is still some probability that you may catch the virus (or any other germs), so what you CAN do is make sure you TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN IMMUNE SYSTEM and help it function at its best by giving your body what it needs. In most cases, these things are almost completely within your control.

Here's what you can do to give your immune system a boost.



SLEEP


Make sure that you give yourself a 7,5-9 hours of time for sleep nightly, (8-10 if you're a child or a teen). I understand that this may not be possible for many, especially those of us who on top of doing home office also just became our kids' nannies and home school tutors, but just do your best to schedule your day so that you don't need to compromise in this extremely significant, yet often so overlooked area.

The topic of why sleep is important is a vast one, but really briefly: we need sleep so that our body can not only REST but also RESTORE, literally build itself anew each night. You want to allow it to do so, otherwise you cause tissue-damaging inflammation in your body, your stress levels rise, the aging processes accelerate, and with all that your body's ability to defend itself from viruses and bacteria plummets.


Ideally, if you can, aim to go to bed between the hours of 10 and 11pm. The science of chronobiology has found that sleeping during those hours before midnight is extremely important and necessary for our body's optimal functioning and no, you cannot make it up by sleeping in the next morning.



DRINK WATER


I hope this one doesn't need explaining. You're about 60% water. So keep your body hydrated. Especially now that we stress even more than the usual, already chronic, amount. Plus, we dehydrate our skin by washing our hands more often than we used to...



KEEP YOUR GUT HAPPY


Add as much whole plant-based foods into your diet as you can.

If you haven't been keeping up with the science of the last 10ish years, you might still be surprised to hear about the incredibly significant connection we now know about between your gut microbiome and the rest of your body. One of the things we now know, (something that the ancient sciences of for instance Ayurveda or Chinese Medicine have been on about for thousands of years...) is that when your gut bacteria are happy so too your immune system works well. When your gut bacteria are malnourished and therefore unwell and not able to reproduce in the optimal quantities you are not only much more susceptible to getting sick, but you're also more likely to go through whatever you catch in a more severe way. No one wants that.


How do you keep your gut happy?

It's a topic I've been educating people about for quite some time, so I will surely write a whole post about it soon, but in short: eat as much of a whole-food plant-based diet as you can. If, for whatever reason, you simply cannot do that, do make sure you add as much of whole plant-based foods into what you're already eating.

All whole plant-based foods contain fiber (and none of the animal foods do). You want to aim to eat a lot of it and get it from many different sources. It's not enough if the only plant-based food you consume is 2 slices of a whole wheat bread every day. You need much more and much more variety as well. If you have access to vegetables and fruit, (fresh are best but frozen will do as well), do enjoy those. Add in legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc), those can be bought dry and cooked at home (just make sure you soak them first for at least 8-12 hours) or you can just get them canned. Make sure you choose whole grains over processed gains as much as possible. White bread or pasta do contain more fiber than any animal product but it's still nothing compared to the fiber you get in a whole grain bread or unprocessed/less processed grains such as oats, buckwheat, all the varieties of rice, quinoa, millet, and (if you're not gluten-free) bulgur and whole wheat. Also, make sure you incorporate healthy fats in the form of nuts and seeds into your diet.


All this fiber our gut microbiome thrives on is called prebiotics. There is also probiotics, those are the bacteria themselves. It's good to sometimes add some more to the tens of trillions already parting in our gut on a daily basis. You can do that by making sure you consume a little bit of fermented foods each day. Those include things like sauerkraut, sour/pickled cucumbers, pickled vegetables, kimchi, plant based yogurts, kefirs, kombucha, tempeh, miso and sourdough bread.


I think this also goes without saying, but do avoid or at least reduce your intake of alcoholic beverages. Though it may seem like they can have a temporarily calming effect they really don't help your immune functioning in any way and, in the long run, they actually end up making you more stressed and more prone to getting sick.



VITAMINS and MINERALS


Another reason to eat whole plant-based foods is all the nutrients those foods provide us with. Eat a rainbow of colors, that's where the antioxidants are. You want them in you body:) A well-balanced diet should provide you with everything you need. But in a time like this it can't hurt to increase your intake of Vitamin C foods such as citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons), kiwis, strawberries, red bell peppers, broccoli, kale and spinach. If you're just getting out of the winter months, it's also recommended to supplement Vitamin D. If you're plant-based, make sure you consume B12-fortified dairy alternatives, nutritional yeast or B12 supplements. B12 deficiency is not uncommon in meat-eaters as well, so even if you're an omnivore you might want to get your blood tested.. but maybe wait until the pandemic is over.


You can also implement immune-boosting herbs and spices in your diet, for instance turmeric or ginger, and treat yourself to this Immune-boosting Potion or a good old Golden Milk in the form of a drink or even oatmeal. (click the links for recipes)



EXERCISE


To be clear, exercise doesn't mean you need to run a marathon every day. Exercise means movement. Our bodies have been build to move and haven't gotten used to our very recent and quite abrupt (when you take into account our whole existence as human beings) shift to the completely sedentary lifestyle. They say sitting is the new smoking. It's okay to sit, of course, but make sure it's not ALL you do all day. We do way too much of it in general, and now that most of us are hopefully doing home office, we do it even more.

Take advantage of the fact that you're in the comfort of your home. Put your legs up once in a while, try to sit cross-legged on your chair, sit on the floor from time to time, get up every once in a while, straighten your legs, stretch, walk around the room when you're on the phone, go for walks as much as you can (alone or with the people you live with). Implement a daily exercise routine- YouTube is your best friend in that departament, take advantage of it- whether it's gentle stretching, a little bit of yoga or home fitness exercises. If you're more active than that, awesome, then you don't need me to tell you what to do.


It's recommended that we should do around 10,000 steps a day. It's okay if you don't hit that number each day, but do keep in mind that most probably you're not moving as much as you should be for the optimal functioning of all your body's systems. The immune system included. So make sure you move as much as possible throughout the day.



KEEP CALM & BREATHE


Stress causes disease... literally. Dis-ease (stress) increases inflammation in our body and provides a perfect environment for a disease to develop. The relatively new field of epigenetics now tells us about the incredible impact our stress levels have on our overall health. By changing how we perceive and think about what happens in our life we have the power to change not only our conscious and (in the long run) subconscious reactions to it, but also our body's chemical response such as the release of appropriate hormones. Those hormones play an crucial role in how our body regenerates and functions on a daily basis. Our consciousnesses literally has the power to control your biology, but you need to practice awareness to cultivate this skill.


If your mind perceives the environment as stressful (bad, dangerous, unpleasant) it sends signals to your brain, which, in turn, signals the rest of your body that things are bad. This causes your sympathetic nervous system to produce a stress response by releasing appropriate stress hormones and giving up on all the functions of your body that don't absolutely need to be taking place at that moment. When you're stressed, your body doesn't know whether it's because you're being attacked or whether you're nervous about taking a test or worried about what might happen in the future. To your body it's all the same. Stress is stress. And it's going to drop everything else it's doing to help you fight, flight or freeze to save your life. And what you're body is dropping here is everything from the functioning of your digestive system, your reproductive system, your immune system and so on. Because all it's programmed to focus on is helping you save your life here and now, not in 10 days or 2 years. So while there are situations in which this response is desired, say if you're being attacked on a street, and even though it's true that small and infrequent levels of stress are actually very beneficial to us, the chronic stress we've unfortunately grown accustomed to is destroying us bit by bit, often without us even knowing it until it's too late. Because you body can only put off its regular, natural and necessary functions for so long... until one day it can't support you anymore.


I have been teaching various techniques of how we can calm our nervous system down and will probably share some here soon as well, you can google them in the meantime, but the basic ones are things like practicing mindfulness, mindful breathing techniques, mediation (mindfulness, mantra, transcendental or even moving mediation), regular Yoga practice (yes, Yoga is actually for the mind 1st then for the physical body), mindful exercises, spending time in nature, practicing sitting still in silence, practicing doing nothing (not as easy as it sounds).


Spending time with your loved ones and positive socializing also tremendously reduces stress. Of course positive (desired and consensual) physical contact can have even more calming effects, so if you're lucky enough to be quarantined with your significant other, do make sure you practice that. If you're away from your loved ones, just make sure you connect with them online regularly, for your own as well as their well-being.


Another thing we all can do to avoid spiking our stress levels is curating the news we're taking in each day. It's good to stay informed, but you don't need to let the media bombard you with the, let's face it, mostly negative news every hour. Pick a time of day when you do check the news and make it a point not to do it more often, simply as a habit. It's also good to seek out some positive news, trust me there's plenty of that as well, even connected with this pandemic, it just rarely makes the headlines.


But probably the simplest thing you can do to calm yourself down is to make time to sit in science and busy your mind with focusing on your breathing. You'd be surprised how awful we actually are at multitasking. And in this case that's a good thing.


Although I'm a firm believer in meditation, I also am all for action. I don't believe you can just meditate your troubles away, but it certainly does help to cultivate a calmer approach towards them, which leads to accepting them for what they are and that is the first step in taking action in order to deal with them. As you calm your mind the paths get cleared and you suddenly find that even though you might not know where the finish line is, what the goal is, where it all leads, at least the next step gets clearer. And you cultivate the faith to take it without the certainty of where it will lead. But you take it. And that's incredibly important. Action is the antidote to anxiety. Any action, however small.


There's so much uncertainty, so much we have no control over during this stressful time, but I choose to take comfort in knowing that there are some things we actually can do and in the fact that it's so fortunate that what the same things we can do to help ourselves actually help other in the same time.


Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you'll find it useful in some way. I hope we can all find ways to be calm, stay safe and healthy and take good care of ourselves. For the betterment of us all.


(written on March 21st 2020)


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*What does it mean to flatten the curve?

In case you don't know this yet, I'm happy to point you toward this very informative video by Joe Hanson that explains it quite clearly and briefly. But if you're not into watching it here's the gist:


This is a still adapted from the above mentioned video:

If we don't do anything, if go on about our lives and let the virus spread as it naturally would, the number of cases would be distributed in time as the pink curve illustrates. What's so bad about that, you may ask, wouldn't it be better if we just all got it, went through it, and be done with it already..?

Well, first of all we still don't know whether or not we can actually be done with it.. it's not like chickenpox that you just have once and that's it. So we don't actually know what it will look like once someones gets it for the second time.. whether our bodies will develop sufficient defense mechanisms to deal with it in a more efficient way or whether the virus will mutate...

But the bottom line is that whether or not we could be done with it at all, we should all aim to flatten this pink curve to the shape of the yellow one- the same number of cases but over much longer period of time. This is because of the white dashed line. That line signifies the capacity of healthcare. That means that we are only able to take care of the number of cases that fall below this line at a given moment, because we simply don't have enough resources (hospital beds, medical equipment and medical professionals) to take care of any more people at one time.

Flattening the curve will help us manage the situation better, it doesn't have much effect on actually fighting the virus and destroying it but it does mean that this way we will be able to save many more human lives... perhaps the lives of some people out there or perhaps the lives of your loved ones.. maybe even your own life. So please, don't trivialize this situation. Stay home and take good care of yourself.



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