“When fishermen cannot go to sea, they repair their nets.” This proverb is increasingly coming to mind these days, as we spend nearly 4 weeks in national lockdown and prepare for more, as COVID-19 necessitates a process of coping and healing.
Staying calm under turbulent circumstances is far from easy especially when apocalyptic memes and tweets proliferate the digital space. However, those who have the privilege to do so, must ensure their physical and mental health, because the medical infrastructure has only just begun to be overwhelmed. In the coming months caution, prevention and immunity-boosting should be our main goals, so that our limited medical infrastructure can be diverted towards COVID-19 relief, under-resourced communities, pregnant women and new mothers, and other emergency cases. We must use our privilege consciously and austerely at this time.
Several therapists have already put their regular clientele temporarily on hold and turned to pro-bono work. Doctors are also regularly sharing immunity-boosting measures at home. So here are some ways in which we can work on our personal health during this time.
Acknowledge the nature of circumstances
This is not as simple as it sounds, but goes a long way. Drop in productivity and motivation, fatigue, unhealthy cravings, mood changes and more-- these are the most normal reactions to the circumstances. We are huddled together at home but it is not a holiday. We are looking forward to learning new skills but there is also a huge burden of domestic chores. You feel safe inside your house but also guilty and anxious about those less privileged. So, accept that these are extremely difficult times. And actively try to excuse yourself for not being your normal self completely. This is the biggest favour you can do for yourself and your mental health-- don't beat yourself up.
Understand some common negative patterns and try to take control, with compassion and without haste
Binge-eating, binge-watching, disturbed sleep patterns and online hyperactivity- many people can identify with at least some of this. Some people are responding by working even harder just to feel a sense of normalcy and control. The fatigue and disturbed sleep are a result of invisible but immense mental fatigue which manifests physically. Binging is a classic distraction mechanism. If you find yourself not sleeping well, make that your goal for a few days. After that pick up the next goal, like reducing the amount of processed foods you are turning to. Do it in phases, just like any period of new adaptation happens in phases. Don’t berate yourself. Just remind yourself that you are indoors, in the first place, primarily for your health.
It is impossible to suddenly start a clean and healthy diet, practice meditation and leave all unhealthy habits aside. So remember that everything is fine as long as it is done in moderation. A bowl of Maggi once in a while or a block of chocolate occasionally is not a cardinal sin, if supplemented by sprouts, khichdi, fruits and vegetables. If you can't practice meditation all at once, start with the much easier 4-7-8 breathing technique and do it several times a day. If the treadmill is too much for you then start walking in the house as much as possible. Basically, take incremental steps, and don’t beat yourself if you are not perfectly healthy. Just focus on minimising what is absolutely unhealthy- sedentary lifestyle, processed food, and a mind without rest.
Dip into your kitchen pharmacy
Turn to some delicious and super healthy “superfoods” that have always been on our kitchen shelves. Cumin (jeera), asafoetida (heeng), turmeric, ginger, honey, cardamom and even cinnamon or dalchini, this sounds very grandma-ish. But think several times before dismissing the transformative potential of the humble Indian spice. A cup of ginger water with a sprinkling of cinnamon can do wonders for immunity and digestion. A plate of khichdi with jeera and dhania is a blessing for your gut. Dahi is the most natural and effective probiotic you can find and can even make at home. You can take this opportunity to try replacing refined white sugar with unprocessed jaggery. A provincial Bengali favourite, “paantha bhaat” (fermented rice) can be a huge cleanse for your system. If you are getting your monthly grocery, add ragi flour, besan, sattu, amaranth, and jowar. Mix and match your flours to make a revamped version of the basic chilla. The humble moong deserves our renewed attention as it is easy to sprout. Basically, rummage through your kitchen shelves and depend on the staples generously and wholeheartedly. Most importantly, eat with mindfulness and gratitude. Is there scientific evidence that it helps? Only some. But it does help us to be in touch with ourselves and our surroundings and feel grateful to those who brought food on our plate. We need this consciousness now more than ever.
Tend to the fresh produce
Keep your vegetables soaked in warm water with a pinch of salt or baking powder for 10-20 minutes, and wash thereafter. Develop this habit for even after the lockdown. Please don’t wash your fresh produce with soap or sanitiser as it could be very risky. Wash only in running water.
Practice respiratory hygiene
Being at home does not mean you should not take precautions. Remember, overuse of sanitiser gels might kill the good bacteria too. Rely on good old soap and water. Cover your mouth while coughing and sneezing and dispose of the tissue immediately. Especially when in the kitchen, wash and wipe your hands often.
Understand why exactly we must stay indoors
We have to stay at home not just to prevent getting infected by COVID-19 but also to isolate yourself in case you or others have the virus, and give it the two week period to incubate. Many times the symptoms are not visible and a lot of people are asymptomatic carriers. The virus also stays in air longer than previously thought. The infection is happening via a mere handshake or hug. The less we go outdoors, the less chances there are of infection, the lesser the burden on our hospitals and lower the count of death. Breaking the chain by staying home is of utmost importance.
Personal health is important now more than ever, and so is everything you are feeling. In case you feel blue, turn to this beautiful poem about the quiet resilience of everyday life. This too shall pass.
Picture Credit: sheknows.com
Swarnima is a Public Health professional and founder of TheaCare, a virtual healthcare center for women