What a crazy time we are all living through! We are all dealing with uncertainty and a sense of imminent danger, collective loss and grief and a loss of the things that make us happy, from socialising to eating out. It’s been a sudden and profound change, coupled with concerns about our health and personal safety.
It’s easy to get caught up in the negative when we feel out of control and forget about all of the things that are in our power to do for ourselves.
This guide, authored by myself and the senior clinical team here at Harley Street Health Centre, helps to set out some important steps you can take through 2021 to stay on top of your physical and mental health.
Protecting your physical wellbeing
Knowledge is power
Knowing enough about COVID-19 to stay safe from it is key. Here are some quick-fire facts that you should know:
- COVID-19 is spread from person to person by a) touching surfaces that an infected person has coughed on or touched and transferring the virus to your eyes, mouth or nose and b) by breathing in droplets containing the virus while in close contact with an infected person.
- The severity of COVID-19 is dependent on a) viral load (how much virus you are exposed to), b) your general health and strength of your immunity and c) your age.
- Over 60% of people carrying COVID-19 show no symptoms and you are most infectious before you develop symptoms. This is one reason why this virus has spread so quickly.
- You can be infected with COVID-19 more than once. If you have antibodies from a previous infection, it is possible that you will get less ill as you have existing protection but this still depends on viral load and how healthy you are when you are infected.
- You can get more sick after infection by staying in the same room with another infected person or people. This is because you are breathing in each other’s droplets, increasing your respective viral loads.
So keeping in mind the above facts, here is what you must do to stay safe from COVID-19:
- Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, often. Also, carry and use a hand sanitiser.
- Avoid touching your face or eating with your hands unless you have the opportunity to clean your hands thoroughly.
- Wear a close-fitting mask with good filtration when you are in contact with anyone else in public spaces and consider wearing one when walking in busier areas.
- Avoid socialising with others outside of your household and avoid crowded areas.
The difficulty with this virus is how diverse symptoms can be. It is true that the most common symptoms are a dry cough, fever and loss of taste and smell. However, especially with the new strains, there a wide range of symptoms that should suggest to you to self-isolate and request a test. King’s College highlight no fewer than 6 different “types” of COVID-19, which you can read about here.
As you are mostly young and generally healthy people, you should stay aware of even the mildest symptoms. COVID-19 symptoms can include:
- Sudden loss of taste and/or smell
- Cold or flu-like symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
In the new “UK” strain of COVID-19, the most common symptoms are sore throat, cough and fatigue.
If you experience any of these symptoms or are generally feeling unwell, you should get tested with the NHS. If your company has an agreement with our clinic, you can also speak to one of our GPs by phone and order a home-testing kit.
In medicine, there are “red flags”. These are indications that your condition is getting serious and you should go to the hospital or call an ambulance. For COVID-19 the red flags are:
- Shortness of breath – are you unable to finish a sentence without getting breathless?
- Fast and harsh breathing
- Blue lips
- Audible wheezing
- Inability to do usual daily activities
- Suddenly feeling worse
If you experience any of the above, call 999 and ask for the ambulance service. If any issue obtaining an ambulance, travel to your nearest A&E (Accident and Emergency) department by taxi.
Prevention is better than cure
You’ve probably heard this proverb before but it is so true for this disease. COVID-19 can be a serious illness that is best prevented by following the above safety measures but also ensuring that your immune system is ready to do its best in fighting this infection. There are several things you should be doing to boost your immunity and wellbeing during this period:
- Eating plenty of fresh vegetables every day and having a colourful diet
- Avoiding foods that cause inflammation such as refined sugars, white bread and processed foods with many preservatives, additives and colourings
- Avoiding fizzy drinks such as Coke and Fanta and replacing these with more water with a squeeze of lemon or infused with cucumber, or cold herbal teas. Tea made with cinnamon sticks then cooled down is delicious!
- Watch your salt intake
- Learning to cook some healthy meals or failing that, making the right takeaway choices
Exercise greatly improves your immunity and general wellbeing and in the context of this virus, improves your respiratory fitness which is a vital part of preventing severe illness.
- A daily walk is a great way to get your daily exercise and a boost of vitamin D
- Try home workouts such as this by our trainer Khalid, which doesn’t need any special equipment.
- Download home exercise routine apps providing workouts at your fitness level.
- Put on some music and dance in your living room or bedroom!
- Learn breathing exercises – you can find these on YouTube
- Take up Tai Chi or Yoga which, in addition to improving your mobility and flexibility, also incorporates breathing exercises and techniques
We should try to get most of our nutrition from a well-balanced diet but this isn’t always possible and we need a boost with supplementation. In addition, the most important vitamin, vitamin D, needs exposure to the sun and we don’t live in the warmest climate! Also, the darker your skin, the more sunlight you need to achieve the same amount of vitamin D production as melanin acts as a barrier. So consider taking the following supplements:
- Vitamin D, 20,000 iu, once a week. This can be obtained from the clinic on prescription after speaking to a doctor.
- Vitamin C and zinc daily capsule or soluble tablet.
- Probiotics 50 billion concentration capsule. Probiotics are helpful in boosting your gut health which accounts for 80% of your immunity!
Protecting your emotional wellbeing
Create structure & variety
Structure and anxiety are directly related. If you create a structure, you reduce anxiety. If you lose structure, your anxiety will increase. This is why it is important, especially in the absence of “normal life”, to create a daily and weekly structure that keeps things interesting, keeps you feeling accomplished and gives you a strong foundation.
Everyone’s daily structure will be different but trying to stick to a general structure will make you feel accomplished, improve your productivity and keep you healthy.
We are currently in lockdown but try to stay connected with others in a meaningful way. It can be tempting to withdraw and limit connection with others to social media. But reaching out and having a meaningful conversation with friends and family every day is really important to stay present and keep our mental health where we want it to be.
Learn something new!
This is the time to learn something new or start a new course or project. Whether that is creative, such as music, art, poetry or writing or more practical such as cooking, baking or academic, learning something new will add variety and colour to your daily life.
Ask for help early
As we described above, these are tough times. We cannot deny this. So you should not feel any shame about needing additional help. There are several clues that you might be suffering from depression, which you can read here. If you feel this way for two weeks or more, please do reach out for support.