• Alison Acerra MS, RDN

Self Care Strategies To Help Stay Sane and Safe

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

When we see toilet paper and canned food raids and other signs of mass hysteria in our communities, even the most zen, rational minds among us can begin to feel a little shaky. Coronavirus is creating intense fear, panic and overwhelm for many, and in these moments, it can feel like we have lost control over our own safety and that of our loved ones. The truth is, while there is no one single food or supplement to prevent Covid-19, there are plenty of self-care strategies we CAN proactively take that consistently, and over time can help keep us all feeling safer, healthier, steadier and more resilient to the stress of these challenging times.

1. The obvi can't be overstated...wash your hands, and often. It’s the most effective and reliable measure, besides avoiding person to person contact. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a right and wrong way to wash hands. The WHO offers a nice review for our uhm, children (wink) here. (Alcohol-based) hand sanitizers are your next level defense when handwashing isn't feasible.

2. Get good sleep. Rest and quality sleep are essential to maintain a healthy immune system and emotional resiliency. Shoot for 8 hours by minimizing screen times before bed and stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine (especially if you are sensitive to their stimulating effects), and alcohol which can impair deep REM sleep. Also notice how sugary foods before bed can impair your sleep quality.

3. Manage your stress and practice mindful moments - Reduced anxiety, depression, sadness, anger...there are so many powerful benefits to mindfulness practice that help you stay in the present moment. Doing so will help you manage the fears that can come from thoughts of the past and worry over thoughts for the future.

4. Build in movement, outside and if possible, in nature. Activity that gets your heart pumping is a great way to boost your immune system and being in nature has incredible anti-stress benefits. Be sure to tune into your body; no need to create more stress; over-exercising can leave you exhausted, less able to cope with stress and more susceptible to illness. Another benefit of spending time outdoors is exposure to the sun's UV rays which helps you produce Vitamin D, known for its immune boosting benefits. As the day's lengthen and we move into spring and summer months, protect yourself with SPF after 15-20 minutes of sun exposure.

5. Maintain (virtual) connection: Social distancing can lead to feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety. Besides finding more time in nature, be sure to maintain close contact with loved ones and especially the elderly in your life. Try holding dinner parties and tea gatherings via google hangouts, and consider virtual “water cooler” hours with your team during the hours you would normally be commuting. Connection is crucial and can help you manage stress during these challenging times. For more recommendations on how to continue to live your life in the age of #socialdistancing visit here.

(Please remember, even if you aren’t experiencing flu-like symptoms, you may still be a carrier for the Coronavirus, placing others at greater risk with contact (i.e. the elderly and those with chronic health problems).

6. Build defenses with nutrition:

  • Eat from the rainbow - Load up on nutrient-dense, colorful fruits and veggies. Antioxidants and immune-boosting micronutrients are your protectors and will help you maintain a strong immune defense. Given that Coronavirus transmission from person to person occurs through respiratory droplets, according to the CDC, “currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.” Smoothies, stir-frys, salads, stews and soups are delicious and easy ways to get nutrient rich- produce into your diet.

  • Feed the Good-Gut - what? If you aren’t familiar with the gut microbiome, (the trillions of good and not so good bacteria that reside in your gut), now might be a good time to get yourself acquainted. Research shows it has loads of importance in building a healthy immune defense that helps ward off opportunistic pathogens. Feeding a “good-gut” means, increasing the count of beneficial bacteria in your gut, (with probiotics) and feeding those probiotics to maintain high counts (with prebiotics).

  • Examples of probiotics include: fermented foods such as custom-made (not store-bought), kimchi and sauerkraut (contains fermented cabbage), miso, pickles (prepared without vinegar), kefir, yogurt and tempeh (fermented soybean).

  • Examples of prebiotics include: any foods that contain fiber (PLANTS!) and there are many that fit the bill; whole grains, fruits and veggies, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

  • Watch the (added) sugar and processed carbs - Let's face it, there may be a little stress eating in these times. It's normal and to be expected. No need to beat yourself up, but do be mindful of the impact of these foods and how they might cause rapid blood sugar fluctuations that leave you exhausted and depleted.

  • Limit alcohol - Alcohol can increase inflammation and reduce your immune system response. If you do imbibe, try to limit to less than 1-2 drinks per day. Alcohol can also do doozy on your sleep. As we know, sleep is essential to manage stress, increase emotional resilience and help maintain your immune system.

  • Find (immune boosting) magic in functional foods:

  1. Mushrooms: a nice review on a few common mushrooms such as maitake, shitake, reishi and cordyceps along with some recommendations for ensuring quality and efficacy of products.

  2. Citrus (ie. vitamin C rich foods) such as oranges, sweet and hot peppers, kiwi and grapefruit.

  3. Ginger - for use in cooking, teas and smoothies.

  4. Turmeric - strong anti-inflammatory benefits and a spice commonly used in Thai and Indian curry dishes, also available in teas.

Please note: Elderberry extract has been referenced for its immune boosting benefits. While it has in fact proven effective against influenza (by way of a significant increase in cytokine production), it appears a "cytokine storm" or very high cytokine production has been implicated in severe Covid-19 cases. For this reason, it is probably safer to avoid its use at this time.

These are difficult times and all we can do is our best in any given moment. Let these self-care practices support you through the moment to moment challenges as they arise. And last, take moments to breathe deep, be good and kind to one another. Stay safe and be well.

Strategic Nutrition Design is a San Francisco-based consulting firm that offers sustainability and nutrition solutions for the foodservice industry in order to help businesses and their eaters thrive.

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