Right now, things are very different from what we are used to. We are currently facing an invisible enemy, and an enemy we know nothing about is particularly difficult to beat. There is still very little we know about COVID-19. We are not going to offer any speculations or claims we can’t back up with solid science, but there are things we know can help you stay safe and sane in these uncertain times. Some of these are not tips on how to keep your body in good shape with nutrition or supplements, how to support your immunity and fight off viruses (although we will talk about that in a future article). These are tips to help you protect yourself and stay sane in this uncertain time.
Different countries of the world have different strategies and restrictions. I live in the Czech Republic where wearing a mask (at least some kind of fabric to cover the nose and mouth) is mandatory. Every non-essential store is closed, restaurants are closed (unless they deliver meals or cook for people who still have to go to work), and there are special opening hours for people over 65 in grocery stores, drugstores, and pharmacies. People are not allowed to gather in groups of more than two unless they are a family or co-workers. There are still people out there taking this situation very lightly, and then there are people in full-blown panic mode, thinking we are all going to die!
None of these extremes are helpful, and I would like to talk to you today about how to stay right in the middle: stay aware of the danger, keep yourself and your loved ones safe, and also focus on staying sane in this crazy situation. Some of us are able to work from home (myself included, and I am very grateful for that), but not everyone has that luxury and some still have to go to work every day, using public transportation to get there, crossing paths with a lot of people along the way. We still have to go outside to get groceries, walk our dogs, take our kids to school (unless schools are closed in your particular area). We have to be mindful of our surroundings, now more than ever.
1. STAY INSIDE (IF YOU CAN)
As an introvert, I find it very easy to stay home 100% of the time, have my groceries delivered, work from home, exercise at home, read, watch Netflix, and Skype with my family. My only contact with the outside world is through an open window. If you are an introverted person (and you are not a parent), you might actually realize you enjoy “social distancing” or “sheltering in place” more than other people. For those of you who are used to running around, spending most of your free time outdoors, gathering with people, socializing, going to movies, clubs, parties, libraries, restaurants and playgrounds, things might be more challenging for you right now. But please, try to remember this: by limiting your time outside to only essential trips to grocery stores and such, you are not only protecting yourself, but you are also protecting your loved ones, friends, neighbors, and also everyone else.
Social distancing was not created as a punishment (even though you might feel like it is, especially if you are stuck in the house for a longer period of time); it is the most effective non-medical measure to prevent the spreading of this virus. You don’t have to take a walk. You don’t have to go running. What you have to do is stay safe in order to protect yourself and those you love (and yes, even those you don’t particularly care about). You don’t necessarily have to help others by delivering groceries to the elderly, supporting small businesses financially, babysitting for people who have to go to work (like doctors and nurses), you can do your part by simply staying inside. If you do just this simple thing, you are automatically a part of a bigger picture. You can literally save lives by just staying home.
However, Vitamin D is one of the key nutrients involved in maintaining human health. It plays a huge role in reducing inflammation, promoting immune health, neurological function, heart health, calcium absorption, and even gene expression. You can find a detailed resource about how Vitamin D is made in the body here. We generally don’t need too much sun exposure to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D, but when we are locked inside all day, getting enough without supplementing can be challenging. The best option right now would be sitting on a balcony, on your lawn, or at least standing in front of an opened window for a while, if that is possible for you. If you are not surrounded by a lot of people, take a walk a few times a week during the day, just 20-30 minutes, making sure you keep your distance from other people, to catch some of that precious sunlight. If the weather allows it, expose as much of your skin surface as possible.
2. COVER YOUR FACE
At the beginning of March, face masks and respirators were completely sold out in my country, and when our government recommended that everyone cover their faces while outside, there were no masks for people to buy. As an amazing act of kindness, women all around the country started making these masks for themselves, for their families, co-workers, and even random strangers. My mom started making 40 simple cotton masks per day for a local home for the elderly and policemen in my hometown. It was amazing to see people online being so kind to one another, offering face masks to strangers on the internet, mailing them out for free, as an act of solidarity.
But even if you can’t sew yourself, and you didn’t get a chance to buy a mask before they sold out, you can always put a piece of fabric over your mouth and nose. Why would you do that? How can a piece of t-shirt help to stop spreading the virus? Aren’t the FFP3 medical respirators the only thing that helps against the coronavirus? Think of it this way: my mask protects you, and your mask protects me. The COVID-19 virus spreads through the air by the aerosol of the saliva of an infected person, and even though the fabric of your mask can’t really stop the virus itself, it can (and it will) act as a barrier for the saliva droplets. And when two people meet and one of them is contagious, there are two layers of protection between them, added to the safe distance (of 2m or 6ft) between those two people.
Czech author and critical thinking speaker, Petr Ludwig, recently recorded a viral video about how face masks work and why they are so important; you can watch the English version here:
If you are lucky enough to have a good supply of the single-use masks, just keep in mind that these need to be discarded after 3-5 hours (depending on the manufacturer and material used). If you are using a home-made fabric mask, machine-wash it after every use at high temperature to sterilize it (100% cotton is the best option, as it can hold its shape the best, even after multiple high-temperature washings). Never touch the front of your mask with your bare hands when outside. If you have to take it off, do so by unhooking if from behind your ears or untying it from the back of your head – again, it depends on the type of mask you are using. Just avoid touching the front part, and make sure you do not put the used mask on inside out accidentally.
3. SHOP OUTSIDE PEAK HOURS
Avoid big crowds of people by shopping as little as possible (once a week if you can), and try to visit malls, drugstores, and grocery stores outside of peak hours. Some places are crowded first thing in the morning, some have the most visitors during lunch break. Observe or call ahead and find out the situation in your local store – it will be different for everyone. If you can, go alone. If you live with family or roommates, it is better to discuss in advance who will be the one doing the shopping, so you limit not only the time spent outside but also the number of people who get exposed. Remember not to touch food in the store with your bare hands, especially unpackaged fruits and vegetables. Always use gloves and plastic bags (this is the only time I would recommend using these bags), and be sure to wash your produce properly when you get back home.
It is important to know different survival times for the coronavirus on the surface of different materials, for example, the virus can survive longer on plastic and certain types of metal. We can further reduce risk by discarding all the packaging as soon as we bring the groceries home (while still wearing gloves) and transfer things into boxes and bags that we know are safe. Treat everything you bring home as potentially dangerous and act accordingly. Better safe than sorry! Watch this video for further details on how to handle food coming into your home.
4. WASH YOUR HANDS
If you have to use public transportation, don’t touch anything with your bare hands. If you are not wearing gloves, remember that elbows are your friends. Open doors with your elbows or with a gentle push of your foot (please, be mindful). Don’t touch elevator buttons (you can press them with your keys, for example). And always, ALWAYS, even if you are sure you didn’t touch anything, wash your hands especially when returning home, before eating food, before commencing work, or before/after touching your face. This can seem unnecessary to mention because the majority of us do that anyway (I hope), but because it is very often an automatic thing, it is important to do it mindfully. Focus on thoroughly washing your hands for at least 40-60 seconds. If possible, use single-use towels outside your own home. Also, avoid touching the soap dispensers and automatic hand dryers as much as possible.
If you are outside your safe zone (aka the place you absolutely know is safe for you), be as mindful as possible of everything you do. We touch our faces mindlessly during the day, we rub our eyes, bite our nails (or pencils), stick fingers into our mouths (not just kids), and it is very important right now to really keep track of these habits and eliminate them as much as possible. Actually, another one of the good things about a face mask is that it prevents you from touching your face too much. Just make sure it sits as comfortably as possible on your face, so you don’t have to keep adjusting it and touching it too often.
5. USE COMMON SENSE
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Don’t get your COVID-19 information only from Facebook or other social media. Don’t automatically accept information as a fact just because your friend’s sister’s coworkers said so. This is a difficult time to navigate through all of the information, there are so many fake news sources out there, some perfectly innocent and harmless, but some potentially dangerous and life-threatening. Recently, a couple got poisoned after drinking a fish tank cleaning solution, because it contained an ingredient that has been speculated to be potentially helpful to fight the coronavirus. While that particular compound is found in certain types of medication, drinking a non-medical dangerous product like that can be deadly (in this case, it unfortunately was). Use common sense.
6. KEEP YOURSELF BUSY
Not sure what to do to keep yourself occupied while spending all day at home? If you are working from home, you are lucky! Just do your best to keep to your schedule as much as possible. If you are not working at all, and you are not sick in bed, find some activity you enjoy (either on your own or with other members of your household that are stuck at home with you). Board games, reading, Netflix, or PC games are all great options, but it can get boring after a few days. Remember how during the year you always say you will start doing this and that, but you never do? Now is the time! Set a goal for yourself and work towards it!
Start learning a new skill, a new language, a new cooking technique! Re-organize your kitchen, pantry, or wardrobe! Start drawing, painting, calligraphy, crocheting, cross-stitching, playing an instrument (but be considerate of your neighbors)… the options are endless. Whatever you decide to do, it is good to do something that gives you a sense of purpose and grounding, rather than mindlessly sitting on the couch, consuming one COVID-19 related article after another, and falling deeper and deeper into depression, fear, and anxiety. If the anxiety gets to be too much, you can occupy your mind, distract yourself, or reach out to a counselor or friend over the phone or video chat. Maybe it is time for you to finally start a meditation practice! Cook with your kids, read to them, sing with them, take that coloring book out of the closet and let colors brighten up the mood. Or just play some happy music and dance, this one works every time, even if you are all alone… and is fun over video chat too.
If you are alone all the time, make sure you stay in contact with people on social media, Skype/video chat, or via phone. Communicate often, call your family, schedule a Skype party with your friends, have coffee with someone on facetime. Even if you are used to being on your own most of the time, the idea of the option of going out being taken away from you can make you feel sad, miserable, or anxious. If you find yourself feeling really down, call someone. Find a friend or family member to be your quarantine buddy and check up on one another regularly. Physical human contact is very important, but right now a remote conversation is just as important for those in complete isolation.
7. DON’T STOP MOVING
Our body is designed to move! And not being able to go to the gym right now is not an excuse to skip your physical training! I am used to going to my gym three times a week to lift heavy stuff, but with fitness facilities closed, I am stuck with my two light kettlebells and my own body weight. Keep moving, people! Walk around your home, do some squats here and there, stretch regularly, do yoga, dance, skip around if you can. Even if your space is limited, you can always do something active.
If you have children, play games that involve physical activity, like Twister. If your job involves a lot of sitting, set an alarm on your phone for each hour and take short breaks to do a few push-ups or lunges. Interested in yoga? Sign up for an online yoga class, or just search for yoga videos on Youtube! You don’t need to be a skilled yogi to try, and you might actually start a real yoga practice that will continue even after this is all over! If possible, stretch and move a little first thing in the morning to get the juices flowing for the day. I strongly recommend this short and sweet Morning Yoga sequence you can do on your own, or even with kids at home!
WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER
We still don’t know how long this is going to take when it will start getting better, or how serious of an impact it will have on the fabric of our society. But always remember this: you are not alone, we are all in this together. We can be kind to each other, help each other, and support each other. You don’t necessarily need to save the whole village, all you need to do is take care of yourself and your family/household, and stay home as much as possible. That is enough. That is perfectly enough. Because if everyone does their best to protect just one person – themselves (and of course the ones who can’t take care of themselves yet), we will all make it through this mess. Together. Stay safe, people!