• Melissa Koons

Take Care of Yourself and Stay Well

There's a lot going on across the world right now. There's a lot of uncertainty which can cause panic—and is. There is one thing that I am absolutely, 100% positive of, though: this is a good time to take care of yourself. I don't mean the bubble baths and gourmet chocolates that most people associate with self-care, I mean honestly, sincerely, seriously, take care of yourself.

In the wake of a world-wide pandemic, social distancing, quarantine, and isolation are becoming the way of the world until health organizations can slow the spread down. There are political and social debates occurring about what truths this has exposed about healthcare, resources, corporate greed, and lack of paid sick leave. I'm not going to go into any of that, but I understand how those factors will affect each person and their individual situation differently.

Some people don't have the option to work remotely. Some people don't have paid leave for when they get sick and missing work can mean not making enough to pay for rent or food (many businesses have stepped up and are now paying employees to not come in to work if they are ill during this public health crisis.) Some small businesses are suffering because their regular patrons that they rely on aren't coming in. It's a mess, undoubtedly so, and the very best thing you can do to help it is to take care of yourself.

"Wash your hands" is advice that has flooded social media and news platforms like a tidal wave (and it's a little sad that it had to, but we all knew that the masses weren't washing their hands the way they should be, otherwise not touching door handles and subway rails would be brand new advice.) Additionally, "Don't touch your face" and typical cold and flu preventative measures such as coughing into your elbow/sleeve, covering your sneeze with your sleeve, and DON'T TOUCH YOUR FACE are still applicable. (I repeat not touching your face because I am a face-toucher and this is the hardest thing for me to follow. I try and next thing I know I'm resting my cheek on my palm or rubbing my eyes or scratching my nose. It shouldn't be so difficult but for some of us [me], this one requires the all caps reminder.)

Social distancing is another piece of advice from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) and is crucial for slowing the spread of the virus down. This means avoiding large groups of people, maintaining a space of 6 feet or more between you and another person, and avoiding public places as much as possible. It doesn't mean stop going out altogether (unless you are in quarantine then, yes, don't go out at all.) But it does mean really think it through, go out at times when the crowds are smaller and not during peak hours, and don't go if you don't have to.

That is all sage advice, but it's not enough. If you still are stretching yourself too thin, it doesn’t matter how much you wash your hands or distance yourself from people, you're still compromising your immune system.

Here are some additional, equally important ways to take care of yourself during this uncertain time:

1. Rest.This is important all the time, but especially now. Resting, getting quality sleep, and just not doing anything for a few hours is how the body mends itself. If your body is a machine (which, it is) sleeping and rest is when the body gets a chance to run a full system scan and run some updates to its firewall (your immune system!) If you aren't resting, your body can't do this and eventually the system will get compromised and the firewall can be hacked by a virus (see how my analogy works?) So be sure to take the time to decompress and relax at the end of each day, make sure you'd allowing yourself a full night's sleep (however many hours that is ideal for you and your body, it's not always 8) and let your body reboot.

2. Eat well.I understand this one comes with certain difficulties, especially now with grocery stores short on supplies but if you are able to get the right resources, be sure to get them. Healthy eating isn't just about weight management, it's about getting the proper nutrition that your body needs for optimal operation. Fruits, vegetables, fresh meat, dairy—all of these have essential proteins and vitamins for staying healthy and keeping your system clean and running at peak performance. We already established your body is a machine, but think of it now as an engine. A combustion engine needs gas and oil to run everything smoothly. If you put the wrong kind of either in, it gets clogged and goes ka-put. Similarly, if you put the wrong foods into your engine, it's not able to get all the gears and energy combustion working quite right and parts get clogged and can stop working. So, this is a good time to get your diet in order. Minimize processed foods, choose fresh options when you can. Frozen can still be fresh! Having a freezer of frozen fruits, veggies, and meat that won't expire as quickly is a great solution right now. Same with milk alternatives like almond, soy, and coconut milk. They have different expiration dates from animal milk and will last longer so you can make fewer trips to the store. And just remember the old adage, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." This is because apples have fiber and vitamin C which are great for your immune system.

3. Hydrate. Maintaining proper hydration is always important but now even more so. There's a reason you can go three weeks without food but only three days without water. Water keeps our bodies working. It washes out toxins, it keeps our minds sharp, it keeps our organs working, and our bodies healthy. Not being hydrated weakens the body and the immune system. So drink water. More of it. 80 ounces a day is optimal (which is up from the typical minimum of 60 ounces.) And by water I mean WATER. Not soda/pop, not coffee, not juice or anything with added sugars or syrups. Just plain ol' water. Keeping with the engine analogy, if food is the gasoline then water is the oil. It is a lubricant that lets all the gears move the way they are supposed to. If you don't have the right oil, it turns to sludge in the gears. If you have no oil, it runs dry and the gears grind and break. Keep your engine working and drink water!

4. De-stress. Seriously. Stress is a killer. No really. It puts a strain on your organs and especially on your heart. It can make you gain weight and it weakens your immune system. Now, with everything going on in the world, it is particularly difficult to not stress (believe me, I get it. I gained 5 lbs last week on stress alone!) Uncertainty is stressful. This complete change to everyone's daily lives and routines is stressful. Instability in your job, in your finances, in what the future holds is STRESSFUL. I'm not saying you should be carefree. I'm not saying you should be carelessly optimistic and go into denial about what's going on. That's not helpful, either. I am saying, things are stressful right now. Your stress levels are likely higher than usual right now. That means your normal de-stressing techniques aren't going to cut it. You need to increase how you care for and address your stress because there is more of it at this time. That means, check in with yourself more. Not just once a day, but a few times a day. Every two hours is a good rule of thumb. If you are at a peak level of stress when you check-in, try to take a break from whatever you're doing, or get yourself to a place where you can. 10-15 minutes is all you need to come down and balance back out. Take a walk outside, get some fresh air. Make a cup of tea (it has been scientifically proved to reduce stress. Tea is phenomenal.) Eat some fruit (the vitamins are especially helpful and citrus fruits have an "awakening" effect that make you feel more alert and refreshed.) Power nap. Whatever works best for you to pause and reboot. Going back to the computer analogy, stress is when you have too many tabs open and it starts making the system slow down because you're running too many programs at once and there's not enough RAM to operate them all at full speed. The solution? Close a few tabs. Come back to those tabs after you have completed a few other things and have the capacity to run the program that the level required. And, sometimes, turn it off and back on again. Sleep truly is a wonder for reducing stress.

Times are difficult right now, and the best thing you can do is to take care of yourself. Not only will it help you, but by taking care of yourself you're also helping others. Putting in the effort to stay healthy means that even if you are young and able-bodied and able to fight the virus off, this way you won't carry it to someone who can't. Taking care of yourself means that you are doing your part to flatten the curve and reduce the rapid rate of spread so that hospitals have the chance and resources to treat everyone who needs it. You cannot control what is happening right now, but you ALWAYS have control over yourself, your actions, and the choices you make.

Take care of yourself and you will help everyone around you. If we all put a little more effort into ourselves and slow down on the typical grind where we let our health become an after-thought, we can make a difference. It may seem small, but all those small changes add up. Stay well.


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