It’s been a challenging and confusing few weeks with what’s been happening in the world due to the coronavirus. And it looks like there’s more to come. Each morning we wake up to a new set of numbers, new information and a rapidly changing world. As if that wasn’t enough, many people have seen their retirement savings dwindle. And now, a lot of us are in self isolation.
Recently the World Health Organization elevated the threat to that of a pandemic. A word that has the power to send chills through the body. A pandemic is declared when a disease rapidly spreads throughout the globe beyond what’s expected from people travelling. That means the virus spreads in new areas around the world in addition to where the disease first started.
Why We Need to Flatten the Curve
While few people have contracted the virus, many of us have been affected more from the changes put in place to slow it’s spread. From cancelling vacations, to being asked to change how you work, to caring for children as schools close. We’ve also been asked to social distance and self-isolate ourselves. Basically breaking off physical contact from others.
It’s important to understand these measures have been put in place to protect people. In part from getting the virus, but most importantly from slowing it’s spread. With a virus such as this one, when people have no immunity and a vaccine is likely a year away, slowing it’s spread is crucial.
If you haven’t already heard of flattening the curve, you will hear about it soon and hear it a lot of times. It’s based on the notion of how much capacity a health care system has. By delaying and spreading out cases, it puts less burden on the health care system meaning each case can get the best treatment. The alternative, a sharp spike in cases all at once, has the potential to overwhelm health care systems. When that happens, there aren’t enough resources to help everyone, whether it’s being sick from the coronavirus, a car crash or a heart attack, care gets delayed or even can’t be provided.
How to Stay Healthy During Self Isolation
It can be challenging and many of us may feel helpless, but by self-isolating, you can help yourself and others. The important thing to remember during this time is to keep up your own health. These events will pass and you want to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing. Here are some things you can do for yourself and those around you:
Manage any Anxiety
If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone. First and foremost, don’t panic. I know that’s easier said then done, and a challenge when you’re bombarded with information and seeing videos of people stockpiling food as if the next ice age is coming. There are a lot of unknowns and misinformation that can add to the problem and stress. And spending so much time at home may only make it worse.
If you’re like me and check in with the news every hour or so, that can add to the anxiety. It’s important to be informed but not to be overwhelmed. If you find yourself being anxious by the flood of information, limit your time you check in on current events. For example, you can set aside time in the morning and at the end of the day to check in. Or just once per day, if you like. You’ll stay up to date without getting information overload.
Get Information from Reliable Sources
There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Even before the coronavirus appeared on the scene. But current events seem to only have ramped up the misinformation wheels. From chiropractors who say they can boost the immune system to homeopaths stating they have a cure to what your friend’s cousin’s girlfriend has shared on Facebook, the misinformation can sometimes seem credible.
While most misinformation can seem harmless, some is deadly such as the rumored alcohol cure in Iran. But even those that don’t cause direct harm can be harmful, as they add noise to the information out there and drown out credible information. The best place to get informed is through the website of your local health authority. For general information, the World Health Organization, CDC or Public Health Agency of Canada are good sources.
Physical Distance, not Social Distance
There’s a lot of talk about social distancing going on, which means minimizing your contact with others. In fact, what is really meant is physical distancing. It is the physical avoidance of people that’s important. You should stay social but not in a physical sense.
We all need social support and staying connected is crucial at a time like this. We’re naturally social and being alone is associated with poor physical and mental health. But this can be prevented through regular contact with family and friends. Talking to others can make you more likely to laugh and smile releasing feel good endorphins.
And with technology, you don’t need to be physically close. Just hearing the voice of another can be comforting. Children speaking to their mothers over the phone experienced a release of oxytocin (the social or love hormone). If you can do a video call through your computer or smartphone, even better because you can see people smile. Smiling is considered contagious and when you smile you become happier and have less stress.
Be a Good Relative, Friend and Neighbour
If you have the opportunity, to help out a family member, friend or neighbour, do so. Many people will be experiencing some sort of social isolation or even depression, especially those living alone. It can be as simple as reaching out to them by phone and providing that social support.
Some people may be under strict quarantine and may need food and other supplies delivered. If you’re able to leave your home, you can pitch in and help. By doing so, you’re also helping yourself. It can make your feel productive and with purpose. In addition, these acts of kindness can also improve your own health.
During this time, you may be tempted to sit and watch TV all day. This may not be a big issue for one or two days, but ongoing sitting can lead to a number of health problems. On the other hand, being active can beat away anxiety, improve your wellbeing and also support your immune system. Even short two minute walks around the house can break up your sitting and improve your blood sugar.
While you might think it hard to exercise at home, there are plenty of things you can do. From jumping jacks to burpees to push-ups, you can get away without needing any equipment. Even milk jugs can be used as weights. If you like following along in an exercise-class setting, try one of the numerous YouTube videos such as this one. If you can get out, going for a walk or bike ride is great.
But that’s not all. Why not take advantage of the time you have and do some spring cleaning? Many household chores are of similar intensity to a variety exercise activities. Regardless of what type of activity you do, aim for 20-30 minutes on most days and feel free to progress to more.
With the possibility of having to self-isolate for several days to weeks, a lot of people have been stocking up on food. This may be prudent, but a walk through my grocery store and seeing all the frozen and prepared foods gone, tells me people are stocking up on unhealthy choices. These types of foods are highly processed and can increase your chances of getting heart disease and cancer.
Of course, it’s a challenge to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and have them stay fresh for weeks, similarly with fresh meats. But freezing them is a great option. You can also buy frozen fruits and vegetables, which are just as nutritious as fresh. If freezer space is a problem, try canned fruits and vegetables, along with canned fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna. And with the extra time you have at home, you might try your hand at learning and cooking new recipes.
Undergoing self isolation is challenging. And whether it’s several weeks or months, it will be temporary, and we will get through this. In the meantime, though, it’s important for you to keep up your physical and mental health. This will help you stay healthy and those around you.
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