So much has been written and said about the coronavirus pandemic that it has become very hard for the average person to know the difference between fact and fiction. Over the course of the next few articles, we will talk about—with as much certainty and unbiased scientific research possible—what’s going on in the world, and what you can do to have as much control as possible over your own health.
With all of the uncertainty going on, understanding how much control you really do have over your own health is going to play a critical role in minimizing stress, your ability to help others minimize stress, and impact how the coronavirus will affect you and your family in the coming months.
What we share with you here isn’t just a guide to staying well in the time of COVID-19, it’s a guideline for immune system health and overall wellbeing, especially during cold and flu season.
In 1918, amid a rapidlyspreading H1N1 (Spanish) Flu pandemic, the city of Philadelphia held its World War I parade (to raise funds for the war effort) as scheduled. Within three days,all of the city’s 31 hospitals were filled with thousands of flu patients. All told, the Spanish Flu killed about 50 million people around the world and 675,000 in the United States. Over 12,000 people died in Philadelphia alone within six weeks of the parade. It was hit harder than any other American city.
By comparison, St. Louis, which had canceled its parade, saw a death toll of roughly 700 people.
So there is scientific precedence to justify the idea of social distancing. It might feel isolating and psychologically distressing to endure a time period when restaurants, bars and other businesses are being forced to temporarily close, but it’s not without warrant that cities are adopting the social distancing model as a preventative measure.
If you’re old enough to remember, people did panic during the SARS outbreak. And just like with COVID-19, people were quarantined, and the most at-risk populations were the elderly and people with underlying conditions. SARS did not spread with the same intensity as COVID-19, however. The virus was able to be contained and eliminated, and all told only 774 deaths were reported. This is part of what makes the novel coronavirus so scary to some people: As of the writing of this, over 18,000 people have died.
The H2N2 (Asian) Flu
In 1957, theAsian Flu pandemic killed 1.1 million people worldwide and 116,000 in the United States.
The H3N2 (Hong Kong) Flu
This particular flu pandemickilled 1 million people worldwide and 100,000 people in the United States. This strain of flu still circulates in various mutations during flu season.
The H1N1 (Swine) Flu
The most recent flu pandemic, H1N1, affected mainly children and middle-aged adults. This was unique to most flu strains because older adults had some immunity to previous H1N1 viruses. This flu strain circulates each year during flu season, but during its pandemic year of 2009, it killed over 575,000 people worldwide.
We don’t have enough data to place COVID-19 among past pandemics yet because the world is still collecting data. New viruses are difficult to contain, and this lack of certainty and knowledge causes anxiety and misinformation. We do know that the novel coronavirus, at first, appeared to be much more deadly than most flu pandemics: Initial reports out of Wuhan showed a death rate of about 3%. But as more data has been released, it appears as though a1% death rate is more accurate. The average flu season death rate is about 0.1%, making COVID-19 10 times deadlier than seasonal flu strains by percentage.
Temperature, humidity,latitude, available hospital space, adherence to social distancing and other factors could still play a major role in what that mortality rate looks like for the United States. Much of that remains to be seen at the moment, however.
Understanding past pandemics is important because the idea of a pandemic isn’t new. Additionally, each year, the seasonal flu varies in severity and is something we can (and should) prepare our bodies for by living as healthy as possible; our best bet is to control what we have control over.
This is a stressful time for just about everyone. Even if you’re not in a high-risk category, you likely know someone who is. Being isolated from friends, losing work, and being away from family is something most of us have never experienced. Having government-mandated shutdowns of restaurants, bars and other public places adds to the gravity of the situation.
Anxiety and stress relief
Chronicstress is connected to the six main leading causes of death in the United States. Managing stress and anxiety through exercise, sleep, natural supplements, laughter, music and whatever else makes you happy is always important. But right now, stress is most relevant because of its connection toa weakened immune response.
The CDC recommends the following to reduce stress during the pandemic:
Most of the things you can do to reduce stress will also help your immune system and impact your overall health and wellbeing as well.
Even when it’s not recommended to go to your local gym, you can still get exercise by working out at home. You don’t need a home gym and or have to subscribe to expensive programs. Situps, pushups, squats and lunges are just a few things you can do at home during isolation. Exercise is beneficial for just about every health issue, as we often write about in our blogs, so be sure to get up and be active as much as possible.
Keep your routine
Many people are being asked to (or forced to) work from home. Keep your routine as much as possible. If you’re not used to working at home, it can take a bit of adjustment. At first, it seems great to have that level of comfort while working, but it’simportant to normalize the situation as much as possible. Get up at the same time, get dressed, plan out your week, make time for lunch breaks, keep a fairly strict schedule, get outside and try not to distract yourself with too much social media. Try to connect with people through FaceTime, Zoom or other live forms of conversation as well, and don’t rely on Slack or email alone.
Avoid unhealthy eating habits
With restaurants offering delivery or pick-up only, and as grocery stores struggle to keep up with the demands of shoppers, eating healthy can be difficult during the time of COVID-19. Eating sugar, specifically, is directly linked with a suppressed immune system.But a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is good for keeping your stress in check and your immune system strong.
Get some sleep
Sleep is hard when we’re anxious or stressed, but if you can get better sleep, you will be less likely to get sick. Sleep doesn’t necessarily boost your immune system, but healthy sleepensures your immune system is as strong as possible so that you’re less susceptible to illnesses. Exercise, diet, natural sleep remedies and proper sleep hygiene (putting away electronics at least an hour before bed) will help you get the rest that your body needs to be at its best right now.
Another way to ensure you’re getting better sleep is to avoid alcohol.
Avoid drinking too much
People areclearing liquor store and grocery store shelves country-wide. The thought of being isolated and quarantined at home definitely makes the idea of isolation drinking appealing. While consuming in moderation is understandable,drinking too much interrupts your sleep, depresses your immune system and actually adds to your long-term stress—even if it does help take the edge off in the short-term.
Promote a healthy microbiome
The foods we eat and the lifestyle we live has animpact on our body’s microbiome, and our microbiome has a large impact on our body’s immune system, mood, weight and digestive health.
Eating a lot of different foods is one way to ensure a diverse and healthy microbiome. Healthy foods will help you in a lot of different aspects of your life, but mixing up what you eat (in a healthy way)helps a more diverse microbiome thrive in your gut.
Fermented foods have probiotics in them naturally, and they can have a significant impact on your mood. Foods like fermented milk, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi and yogurt all change your microbiome for the better.
Probiotic organisms from food and supplements may also help boost your immune system. By helping beneficial bacteria colonize your gut, probiotic organisms can help prevent bad bacteria from entering. Depending on the probiotic strain, probiotics have also been shown to reduce the severity of respiratory infections and increase theproduction of immune system cells.
Preparation and prevention, healthy habits, adherence to local and national ordinances and advice from the CDC will help you stay healthier through the coronavirus pandemic. Social media and the news are useful resources, but too much exposure can make you overly anxious. Stress can make you more susceptible to disease, so finding ways to stay calm, connect safely with others and have fun is important during this difficult time.
We don’t have a lot of control over the flu, colds or pandemics, but we do have a lot of control over our own health. Living a healthy lifestyle will make you less likely to get sick year-round, and can help reduce the severity of some illnesses when you do catch them. There’s no way to cure COVID-19, but there are ways to help prep your immune system so that it can do what it’s intended to do: fight off disease and keep us going.
For more information, please visit the CDC’scoronavirus website.
If you or someone you know are experiencing anxiety or stress over the pandemic, the CDC also has valuable information and resourceshere.
Seth Garland - Content Writer, Physician's Choice