Dr. Sobel’s Guide to Boosting Your Immune System (And Saving Your Sanity) in the Time of Coronavirus

With so many of us practicing social distancing and King County schools closed until April 18th (if not longer), I know many of you are facing new daily challenges. Social distancing, though critical in managing this epidemic, can be harmful. Humans are extraordinarily social creatures; we do not fare as well in isolation. We must work hard to practice social distancing safely so our immune systems are in top shape to battle SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, or anything that may come our way. My staff and I want to offer the following guidance and resources for you and your family.

Boosting Your Immune System

Boosting your immune system is generally synonymous with maintaining vibrant health overall, but here are some specific ideas.While it may be tempting to dive into a deep dish of comforting mac n’ cheese in times like this, your body needs plenty of vitamin- and fiber-rich foods to maintain its defenses.

Immune-boosting foods

According to Healthline, WebMD, and other medical sources, the following are some great options for boosting the immune system:

  • Fruits: all citrus, kiwi, papaya, watermelon, pomegranate, acai berry, elderberry (you’ll most likely find these last two in bottles outside the produce aisle)
  • Vegetables: spinach, mushrooms, red bell peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes
  • Seasonings: garlic, ginger, turmeric
  • Protein: poultry, chicken soup, almonds, shellfish, oysters (local favorite Gemini Fish Market offers delivery of fresh seafood)
  • Probiotics: plain yogurt, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut
  • Other: wheat germ, sunflower seeds
  • Beverages: pomegranate juice, hibiscus tea, hot tea (green especially, but white or black are good too)

Immune-boosting restaurant meal options

Can’t deal with cooking tonight? Consider ordering a take-out meal that includes many of the above immune-boosting foods delivered to your doorstep.

  • Chinese food: red peppers, broccoli, garlic, ginger, poultry, and seafood are all common ingredients in Chinese cuisine. Plus, it’s an opportunity to support local Chinese restaurants that have been hit hardest by misguided coronavirus fears. Focus on the stir-fried options and avoid deep fried dishes with sweet sauces. Local favorite: Luna Bistro
  • Indian food: India has a long history of eating for health and immunity, and many classic dishes were designed with Ayurvedic principles in mind. You’ll get large doses of turmeric, ginger, garlic, and veggies with most Indian meals. Local favorite: MokSHA
  • Middle Eastern food: Abundant in vegetables, fresh herbs, lemon juice, and fiber-rich beans, Middle Eastern food is also loaded with fresh garlic, making it a top choice when it comes to immune-boosting eating. Local favorites: Garlic Crush

Immune-boosting health practices

Following are some proven practices for boosting your immune system.

  • Exercise each and every day. As little as 20 minutes a day of walking can boost immune function. If you can’t go on a walk, look for fitness classes on YouTube. Yoga is a form of exercise that builds strength and takes little space.
  • Get adequate and consistent sleep. Give yourself a bed time. While we know it can be tempting to binge-watch shows ‘til the wee hours, your body needs sleep to maintain its defenses. Try to align your sleep schedule with daylight hours and eliminate screen time after dark. Consider listening to music and audiobooks over visual stimuli. Kids and teens need much more sleep than adults.
  • Try stress-reducing practices. Stress weakens the immune system, and there’s no doubt many of us are feeling stressed at the moment. Deep breathing and meditation are both wonderful, cost-free ways to reduce stress. There are many excellent apps to guide you. Even a few minutes per day can provide benefits.

Saving Your Sanity

Mental health is equally important. Following are some ideas to help you stay grounded in uncertain times.

Moderate your news consumption

Unless you are involved in healthcare policy decisions, you need not check coronavirus counts every hour. Choose a specific time in your day to digest the news, then give it a rest until the next time. If your current news channel of choice has a style that increases your stress and anxiety, consider exploring other options. For instance, you might switch from cable TV news to reading updates online from a trusted news source.

Do your best in the now and practice gratitude

Nothing is going to be perfect right now, but having gratitude for what you do have—an internet connection, a roof over your head, something to eat, and spring weather all come to mind—is key to remaining calm and reducing stress. It’s OK to take pleasure in simple things when times are tough. It’s also important to give your mind a respite from fear by staying present in each activity, whether it’s washing your hands for 20+ seconds, cobbling together some form of homeschooling, or creatively cooking from your pantry.

Establish routines

The American Academy of Pediatrics affirms the importance of daily routine for young children, but routine is good for people of all ages. Routines and rituals give structure to days, helping you to wake up with a sense of purpose—in addition to ensuring good habits (daily exercise) and bad habits (couch potato-ing) have their respective place and limits. You can work to match your pre-coronavirus schedule for continuity or establish new and healthy routines.

Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption

Virtual toasting is hot right now, but you can do it with a non-alcoholic option. (Pomegranate juice mixed with bubbly water or chilled hibiscus tea are great immune boosting options!) It’s very tempting to drink in quantity in times like this, but overuse of alcohol is associated with depression, not to mention hangovers. By eschewing alcohol, you’ll also sleep better, which is important for every aspect of your health and well-being. Set limits for yourself (for instance, 3 drinks a week) or have a dry month.

If you are a recreational marijuana user, now may be a good time to consider the potential negative impacts during an already stressful time, such as increased anxiety or paranoia. Consider switching to products with a higher CBD content or stick with Sativa-dominant strains to avoid any potential negative effects on your mental health.

Get some fresh air

Spending some time outdoors each day has numerous health benefits. Even in areas with stricter shelter-in-place orders, you likely have the option of walking your dog, taking a walk, grilling outdoors, or catching up on garden chores. If you are truly stuck inside, open up your windows for some fresh air and watch for times when sun streams directly in your windows, then situate yourself for a 15 minute sunbathing session.

Find some new and positive forms of entertainment

From Broadway to Bellevue, many entertainers are offering ways to enjoy their talents online. You can catch a musical on BroadwayHD or stream the best in opera via The Metropolitan Opera. Our beloved local Youth Theater Northwest is working to offer spring classes online; consider signing your kids up. And, to help YTN while their theater is dark, consider purchasing a FlexPass which is good for three years!

Reach out to friends or a therapist

Connecting with others is vital. Reach out to friends, check in on parents, have an over-the-fence chat with neighbors. You and your kids can also get creative when it comes to play dates with friends: play a virtual game of Farkle or even a board game (by matching moves in both locations) via video chat.

If therapy is what is called for, talk to your local provider about having an appointment by phone. If you don’t yet have a therapist, consider an online therapy option.

We wish you all the best and hope these ideas prove helpful to you now and in the coming days.

Most importantly, please try to make someone happy everyday—if you haven’t laughed today, we’d like to try to help. Please give us a call.

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