It’s been the weirdest and most surreal two months of my life. In my enclosed box, I wonder every day how other people are doing in their own boxes. I read horrific testimonies on the news of strangers’ experiences with Covid, I hear the quiet anxiety in the voices of friends and family who do not have the virus, and I do my best to be an encourager with hopeful words for patients I’m still seeing daily, virtually, who believe Covid-19 would be their death sentence if layered onto their existing health conditions.
Since early March, I’ve had at least four different sore throats. One subsides and then a week later another comes…no other symptoms except a nagging fear. I wonder all the time if it’s the virus. I drink 50 ounces of green tea daily (it has always worked magic on past cold viruses). I bargain with God that if He heals me, I’ll pray daily for the world. All the sore throats do go away in a few days. But then I’ve also noticed shortness of breath, especially at night. Well, it’s not really that because I can easily take full deep breaths; it’s more like bricks sitting on my chest. I’ve realized this is related to daily anxiety. Close friends have described panic attacks, and feeling suffocated is a symptom. Some days are really good and the sun is shining, and other days I’m very down.
Visiting my elderly parents twice a week with food and care, coaching my son through online home study, and continuing to educate patients with a rehearsed confident voice get me through. But then I worry that if I have the virus I must be spreading it, so I sanitize obsessively and fuel more anxiety. Ultimately this all goes in frantic circles. The only thing that has really kept me functional is my faith and knowing that my beginning and end is established. Nothing is a surprise to Him and we hold a promise that He covers us in safety under His wings. Even though we have to walk through the valley, fear isn’t intended to come with us.
As I ramble, I wonder how you are doing. Do you relate? What are unique challenges in your box that you’re facing? And why am I talking about this when the title of this post is about nutrition?
I mention the uncertainty because when we can’t be in control, we may seek out things we can control—like diet. Can nutrition make a difference right now? I was fortunate to be tasked with writing an article on nutrition and immunity last month that helped me to understand what exactly is our immune system—seriously a remarkable factory of stepwise actions that respond to invaders. What is true:
- Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can weaken your immune cells and both their ability and efficiency in responding to pathogens.
- A traditional Western diet that is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and red meat but is low in fruits and vegetables is also a problem. This way of eating disrupts the growth of healthy intestinal microorganisms that are directly involved with regulating a healthy immune system.
But what if you are already well-nourished and eating a plant-based diet? It might just be the best you can do. There may be some benefit in specific foods like garlic and tea, and vitamin D supplements (as most of us can’t eat enough D in the diet). Yet people who are doing all these things tend to strive for more, such as turning to high-dose herbal supplements or cleanses to “filter” the liver. Both of these are pretty unnecessary and may just add to anxiety.
I’d recommend taking an honest look at your diet to see how it measures to the balanced plate, at least 80% of of the time. If you aren’t following it, are there ways you can? If not, as a last resort taking a basic multivitamin is reasonable. I don’t eat a balanced plate at all meals, so I use a multivitamin a few times a week. If feeling under the weather, I take extra vitamin C, about 500 mg, a few times a week and drink green tea because both personally make me feel better, but I don’t necessarily advise it to others. Maybe chicken soup or a homemade blended green vegetable drink makes you feel better—go for it!
And lastly, don’t underestimate other key factors:
- 7-9 hours of sleep: A lack of sleep causes a drop in the amount of infection-fighting cells. Set a time to hit the bed and stick with it. Try not to scroll through news or social media under the bedcovers. Allow your stomach to empty a few hours before retiring, and try yoga stretches or a meditation app to clear and quiet your mind.
- Controlling mental stress: Stress hormones like cortisol are released that suppress the action of immune cells. Have you ever received a cortisol shot for a painful knee or shoulder? The hormone suppresses the inflammation that contributes to pain but which is also a normal immune response. Although the amount of cortisol your body releases from mental stress is less than in a shot, it can still interfere with your immunity. Learn to identify when anxiety and disturbing thoughts enter your mind. Do they take residence and start a whirlwind in your head? I like how the Bible says “take captive every thought” because it’s so true that if you don’t capture a harmful thought early, it can intensify and become harder to control.
- Exercising moderately and regularly: Exercise increases blood flow which helps to flush out pathogens and stimulates the action of white blood cells. Walking is the most accessible movement, but there are endless exercise formats on YouTube. The key is to find movement you enjoy and do it regularly, at least 3-4x a week. Excessive exercise on the other hand can release cortisol and cause the same problems as mental stress; “excess exercise” is subjective depending on your fitness level but generally might be defined as exercising at a vigorous pace for more than 1.5 hours daily.
- General practices for safety and hygiene.
I hope that you are coping ok during our Covid-19 quarantine. What behaviors have become your new normal?