COVID-19 & Flu: Get the latest information

HealthFocused

Educational health information to improve your well-being.

Self-Care & Supporting the Immune System during COVID-19

April 29, 2020
Published in: COVID-19, Primary Care

dumbbells, smartwatch, fruit, earbuds

The COVID-19 virus seems to be more severely affecting people with pre-existing conditions including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer. If you recognize that some of your habits could be compromising your immune system or you want to pump up what you are already doing, there are steps you can take to stop the damage and start supporting your immune system.

Nutrition

Although this is an extremely stressful time, both personally and professionally, this is not the best time to resort to "comfort foods" especially if comfort foods tend to be sugary or processed.

  • Move away from processed foods. Disadvantages of processed foods include a loss of vitamins, reduced fiber, and some processed foods can be digested more quickly, leading to higher glycemic/sugar loads.
  • Move away from food containing corn syrup and sugar (including sugary foods and drinks).
  • Eat REAL foods. Eat foods containing protein (meats, poultry, organ meats, seafood, eggs, dairy and legumes) and a variety of vegetables, and fruits, nuts and seeds. These foods provide a rich array of vitamins, minerals, energy, repair and building factors. These foods may be fresh or frozen. Read the label when choosing canned foods, as they may have added syrups, sugar or large amounts of sodium.
  • Internet Resources: Visit www.eatright.org to learn more about specific foods for immune support, smart shopping, and reducing your sugar intake. Search "Support your Health with Nutrition", "Getting Groceries during Quarantine" and "Looking to Reduce your Family's Intake of Added Sugars?"

Exercise

Exercise can boost the immune system through a number of mechanisms.

  • Taking a 10-minute walk, 2-3 times a day or a single 20-30 minute walk daily is a great start. Some body weight/resistance exercises help too.
  • Find a light to moderate "doable for you" exercise routine (please note - heavy, long-term or high intensity exercise can actually decrease the immune system temporarily)

Internet Resources

Stress Management

Cortisol and adrenaline, two of our major stress hormones, can weaken the immune system. Learning to manage stress can help us stop the damage and support the immune system.

  • Take a break from the news and social media. Get the information you need and then take a long break for the day.
  • Try to get involved in activities you enjoy, such as exercising, reading, movies, arts and crafts, and music. Find activities you can enjoy as a family as well. If you are single, take advantage of social apps such as Zoom, Skype or FaceTime to connect with others during social isolation.
  • Prayer and/or devotionals help connect you to a power greater than yourself.
  • Meditation: Try 10-20 minutes of sitting still once a day (or as needed). Decide on a focal point for your attention, such as your breath or the sound of nature. When you find your mind wandering from your focal point, bring it back to the sound or sensation of your breath. There is no need to judge on how much your mind wanders. The goal is to exercise your ability to recognize when your mind wanders and bring your attention back to your focal point. This helps you learn how to still your mind.
  • As tempting as alcohol can be, it takes a psychological and physical toll on the body that can actually intensify the effects of stress. In the short-term, it can provide some relief but it can also result in higher anxiety levels once it wears off. Alcohol-induced anxiety can last hours to a day after drinking. As a sedative and depressant, alcohol can also increase feelings of depression and discouragement. Alcohol can also suppress the body's immune system.

Augusta Health Resources:

  • A Spiritual Care Call Line is available for members of our community. Our Chaplain, Dr. Chris Mason is available at (540) 294-4207, Monday - Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Online Resources

  • The Virginia Community Response Network (VACRN), a statewide network of EMDR-trained therapists who volunteer in disasters, is now offering up to five free telemed therapy sessions for any medical professional (doctors, nurses, medical techs, health aids, respiratory therapists, etc.) and first responders (fire fighters, EMTs, etc.) Visit www.vcrn.org to read more about this program and request assistance.
  • For meditation, check out the phone app Insight Timer for beginner meditation, ambient sounds or guided meditation. Others apps include Headspace, 3 Minute Mindfulness and Calm.
  • Visit www.helpguide.org and search "Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear and Anxiety"
  • Visit https://health.clevelandclinic.org and search "5 Ways to Manage Stress During the Coronavirus Outbreak"
  • Visit www.hbr.org and search "That Discomfort You're Feeling is Grief"

Smoking Cessation

Smoking harms the immune system and makes the body less successful at fighting disease, such as pneumonia and influenza. The lungs are most susceptible to COVID-19 and the cascade of events that follow viral invasion of the lungs.

Sleep

Sleep is a major time of repair, rebuilding and processing in the body. Not getting enough sleep can affect the immune system and your emotional resilience.

  • Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep
  • Routine exercise helps promote sleep
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Avoid alcohol near bedtime
  • Try to make the room as dark as possible. Lights from electronic devices disrupt the release of sleep promoting hormones. Stopping the use of these devices 1-2 hours before bedtime may help sleep.
  • Cooler room temperatures also help with sleep

This information was provided by Augusta Care Partners