Sun 22 March 2020:
With COVID-19 cases soaring across the world, a number of countries have entered a state of lock down.
Here are some tips from experts across numerous fields, from psychology to immunology, for tips amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minding your Mental Health: Psychologist
“People are having to do a lot of things that are out of the ordinary for them,” Dr. Christopher Hand, lecturer in psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University said
“It is a very difficult time, particularly for people that have young families, or vulnerable adults to care for, and the uncertainty around the situation is certainly not helping”.
With that in mind, Dr. Hand has several recommendations:
1. Build a routine:
It is being hailed as unprecedented times, but Dr. Hand says that building a ‘new normal’ or a routine, is key. “Although it might be tempting to have endless pyjama days, getting up, washing, having breakfast, building a timeframe and schedule for the day is really, really crucial”.
2. Mental health support is available:
When looking for help during the pandemic, support lines remain available, Dr. Hand reminds us. “It’s very important that people don’t lose sight that support systems are available to them”.
When looking for mental health advice online, it is crucial to know where to look. “It is really important that people get their information from relatable sources, so particularly things like the World Health Organization (WHO) is providing really good guidance on how people can self-care and how they can responsibly care for their loved ones”.
3. Avoid an information overload:
Having a level of “detachment” from updates can be helpful, Dr. Hand suggests.
“It is maybe a good idea to set yourself a schedule for when you are going to actually engage with updates, or when you’re going to watch the news – almost going back to the traditional style of watching the 6 o’clock news rather than engaging with the 24-hour news cycle.”
It’s about balance, Dr. Hand says, between your day-to-day routine and protecting yourself. In order to avoid unregulated information on social media feeds, Dr. Hand suggests using the messaging function on apps to maintain social contact while limiting time on news feeds.
4. Don’t skip exercise:
Dr. Hand suggests sticking with your exercise routine, adding that it is “very, very important for mental health”.
“It is very important that people keep a close eye on what they are allowed to do as well as what they may have been prohibited from doing. So, for instance, if people are still able to take regular exercise, albeit safely”.
For the jurisdictions that are allowed to go jogging, or for a walk safely, Dr. Hand recommends doing so. Alternatively, “if people have a garden, make use of it or to find ways to incorporate exercise around the house”.
5. Keep up contact:
“Whether it be through using WhatsApp, Skype or FaceTime,” keeping in contact is “hugely important”. “Keeping in contact with your social network, particularly those closest to you and indeed anyone who you’re concerned about who might be vulnerable” is key.
6. Don’t turn to alcohol or drugs:
People should try their best not to turn to things like alcohol or drugs to manage their mental health and wellbeing, Dr. Hand says.
“On social media, it seems to be really popular to talk about panic buying wine and such. But we know that, joking aside, there are potentially harmful consequences to trying to use alcohol and other substances”.
7. Keeping a healthy diet:
In times of high stress, an increased degree of ‘comfort eating’ should be avoided, Dr. Hand suggests. “Although it can be difficult due to availability to fresh food and vegetables, it’s really important that people try to eat healthily”.
“That tendency to try and comfort-eat, and binge on bad foods, it would be really helpful if people could avoid that as much as possible”. They key, Dr. Hand says, is to “try not lose sight of what is normal, so try and eat normally”.
8. Providing children with facts, not rumours:
With schools shut across the continent and families working from home amid a shroud of uncertainty, it is a difficult time for children.
“The best thing to try and do is to show extra patience,” Dr. Hand says, while reassuring them with “facts rather than rumour or speculations”.
“Particularly for kids who are switched on in a digital way, let them phone their grandparents and get that social contact. Also, encourage kids to get their information from places like the World Health Organization (WHO) rather than social media”.
Boosting your immune system: Immunologist
Professor Luke O’Neill, a leading immunologist, told Euronews of an important measure everyone can take when battling COVID-19, boosting the immune system.
“There is no doubt you can help your immune system,” Prof. O’Neill said. “Your immune system is your only friend here”.
“It’s obvious things really,” Prof. O’Neill said. A good diet is key, and avoiding a high fat diet, as well as a good night’s sleep. “If your tired, your immune system won’t work and if you’re malnourished, your immune system won’t work”.
Interestingly, Prof. O’Neill also recommends a supplement Vitamin D in your diet which is found in foods such as fish or milk.
A major factor in the deterioration of the immune system, Prof. O’Neill warns, is stress. “Stress really damages the immune system, because a hormone called cortisol is made in your body and that represses some of your immune cells. So you have to try not to be stressed”.
Prof. O’Neill also highlights exercise as a key element in keeping your immune system high. “It is a great de-stresser but also, the immune system can be a bit sluggish,” he said. “If you do some exercise, more blood flow happens in your body and your immune system is churned into action”. “Even in older people, a tiny bit of exercise is suffice”, he said.
“These are proven ways to keep your immune system healthy and that is your biggest friend. Because that will kill this virus, remember it has evolved to handle these kinds of things. So, absolutely you can do a good job to your immune system as well”.
What should be in your shopping trolly: Dietician
“Rather than panic, it is a time to plan,” Prof. Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle, Australia, said, referring to the scenes of panic buying across the world.
When it comes to diet, Prof. Collins suggests a few tips:
1. Don’t panic buy:
“Some of the panic buying, people are stocking up on things they already have,” Prof. Collins says. Don’t overdo it, she warns. “Cross off what you don’t need, add on any extra things that you do need and just buy enough for one to two weeks”.
2. Eating for health:
With most working from home, Prof. Collins says that “it seems like it is an opportunity to get back to basics” .When it comes to what nutrients are needed for your immune system, Prof. Collins says that it is a “good time to get out your old fashioned recipe book and really focus on those basic ingredients”.
“When you look at the foods that are repeated with regards to Vitamin A, B, C, Iron, Selenium, and Zinc, there are a few real stand out foods that keep coming up. That is your green leafy vegetables, whole grain foods such as rolled oats for breakfast and choosing whole grain bread, lean meats, nuts and seeds, and a whole range of fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly for things like Vitamin C”.
3. Think about others when cooking:
Pay attention to those vulnerable around you, Prof. Collins suggests. If there is a vulnerable person living alone, “could you drop them a meal,” she asks.
“Rather than throw anything away, now is the time also not to waste. Keep an eye out particularly for the elderly who are not supposed to go to supermarkets”.
4. Most people don’t need to take supplements:
“Any supplementation needs to be done with the approval of healthcare practitioners and it is only likely needed in people who are sick, or get sick easily, and it’s a fine balance” Prof. Collins says.
“For most of the people in the population, it is about eating healthy and there is a couple of exceptions”. There has been an “excellent measure analysis from 25 study on Vitamin D,” she notes, reiterating Prof. Luke O’Neill. “Vitamin D is a nutrient that you can make in your skin but you’re not as efficient at that as you get older. You need to have sun exposure on your skin”.
“So, if you are totally locked in doors, you may benefit from a Vitamin D supplement or if you are social distancing, so that means you can still go outside, make sure you go for your walks and get enough Vitamin D”.
For general multi-vitamin use, Prof. Collins says that this advised only for those who have some sort of malnutrition or malabsorption disease. “These people will be guided by their usual medical practitioners,” such as those with chronic lung disease, or cystic fibrosis.
“Don’t start taking something you didn’t take before,” Prof. Collins warns. “People with low Vitamin D status, previously on supplements, keep taking those. Everyone else, you can absolutely get all the nutrients you need from food”.
“Focus on the foods, and focus on making sure the people around you are eating healthily. We are all in this together and that’s the best way to get through”.
5. Wash your hands!
“Food hygiene is always important,” says Prof. Collins. “Wash your hands before you start cooking, and now it’s even more important to make sure that anyone with a cough or a cold is not doing the cooking”.
Social distancing, hand washing: Doctors
1. Social distancing
Dr. Ciara Kelly is a Irish physician and radio presenter advice is to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Apart from those who you live with, Dr. Kelly reiterates the need to keep at least a 2 metre distance. “If they cough or sneeze, you are not in the radius of where that cough or sneeze will fall”.
“Stay as socially distant from anyone you have to mix with as possible. If you don’t meet people, you can’t catch the virus and so you can’t pass the virus. The more distance you put between yourself and people, the better, at the moment for a short period of time”.
2. What should you do when you feel unwell?
“If you are unwell in any way at the moment with respiratory disease, stay home and seek a test,” says Dr. Kelly.
Dr. Dominic Pimenta is a Cardiologist based in the UK notes the need to avoid being a spreader of the disease.
“If you are yourself, unwell, make sure you don’t come into contact with people who are vulnerable, people who are elderly or those under immunosuppression, or with lung disease.”
3. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face
“Wash your hands, constantly,” Dr. Kelly urges. Dr. Pimenta reiterates the need to listen to local government guidelines and also to the WHO call to wash your hands effectively. “Avoid touching your face,” Dr. Kelly says. “If you are moving hand to face all the time while touching other objects, you will get into difficulty”.
“Throughout Europe, we are seeing levels of contagion we did not expect. All of Europe needs to pull together to see that of our safety is in each other’s hands”.
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