Isolation and immunity: What can you do for yourself in uncertain times?

All of that alone is enough reason to feel anxious, nervous, stuck and concerned.

THERE’S STRESS in not knowing what to expect (photo credit: TNS)
THERE’S STRESS in not knowing what to expect
(photo credit: TNS)
Life here in Israel has changed drastically in an incredibly short period of time. We are in a limited state of emergency with preventative measures that have impacted us all. All over social media and the Internet, we’re seeing article after article about COVID-19, what we should be worried about and what we should be doing to slow down the spread.
Schools, universities, function halls, movie theaters, malls, restaurants, coffee houses and other establishments are closed until further notice. Public gatherings are no longer permissible (and outings with a purpose, such as jogs, must be kept to no more than five people). We’re told we should not leave the house unless absolutely necessary.
All of that alone is enough reason to feel anxious, nervous, stuck and concerned. These are truly stressful times and underlying, ongoing stress of this nature can escalate into other symptoms and problems if we don’t notice and get ahead of it first.
As an internationally trained Mind-Body Practitioner & Stress Relief Management Expert who sees clients from all over the world, I wanted to offer some perspective and hope, and even practical, doable actions you can take on right now to care for yourself wherever you are.
It’s common and normal to feel confusing emotions. There’s stress in not knowing what to expect. Some people aren’t sure if they’ll have jobs to return to. Not everyone feels safe and at ease at home. This amount of time feeling confined at home can bring up a lot of emotions.
Beyond the fear of getting sick and contemplating the long-term consequences of this pandemic, our bodies are enduring a lot right now. All of that stress builds up. Living with it day in and day out means the body is releasing an unnatural amount of cortisol, sending blood away from your digestion and keeping you in a stressed state where your muscles are tense, your brain is unable to relax and rest, your stomach feels uneasy, and your nervous system is working on overdrive.
It can feel like a dramatic energy spike and then drop. You might notice a loss in motivation or drive. Headaches, stomach aches, poor digestion, irritability, and more are all physical symptoms of stress. If the stress continues to escalate, it can have a negative effect on your immune system that you won’t be able to see or feel at first. During a time where everyone is hoping to avoid a new virus, taking care of your immune system any way you can is more important than ever.
The good news is, there are things you can do to mitigate the harm. These are practices I’ve taught and practiced for years and can be done from anywhere, anytime. With more time at home and in potential quarantine, it can be an opportunity to start training your mind and body in new ways that will naturally ease your nervous system and help you drop into parasympathetic nervous system dominance, also known as the relaxation response.
First, how is your breathing? If you haven’t paid close attention to your breathing patterns in a while, your inhales and exhales are most likely irregular and shallow. That’s a natural effect of stress. You can undo that and, at the same time, help your entire body. Breathing is the cornerstone of stress management. It will help you regain your focus, your clarity and your stability.
Here’s a breathing practice you can try now:
Do a body scan. Sit comfortably and try to release as much tension from your body as possible. In your mind, go through and scan all the different body parts from your fingers to your toes. Name each part and picture the tension falling away like drops of water. Inhale slowly and deeply, and as you exhale, imagine more tension falling away. Count your breath: "1, 2, 3, 4 inhale, hold, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 exhale." Let your mind exercise its focus muscles by turning its attention to simple counting. That’s something to try throughout the day.
Second, are you paying attention to your thoughts? It’s tempting to give in to the panic. Anxieties and tensions are high right now, understandably. It makes sense to have gone through every possible worst-case scenario. However, letting these obsessions take over can have the detrimental effect on your immune system you’re hoping to avoid.
While it might feel counterintuitive, now is a great time to find ways to focus on what you feel grateful for. What is good about this very moment right now? Sometimes it’s all about the details. Look outside, take in the colors, spend time in the kitchen and really notice the pleasant aromas of your favorite foods. This is not to negate your very real emotions about everything that’s going on. It’s about giving yourself a moment of perspective and permission to find joy in the small things: play some music, get comfortable under cozy blankets, spend time with your favorite book, or simply let yourself live in moments of peace and silence.
Get Creative
With the kids at home, quiet time is a real challenge.
The gratitude jar is a wonderful exercise that can be done on your own or with your kids.
Items needed:
• Glass jar
• Ribbon or other decorations
• Plenty of slips of paper
• A pen for writing your gratitude notes
Step 1: Find a jar or box.
Step 2: Tie a ribbon around the jar’s neck, or decorate however you like.
Step 3: Think about what you’re grateful for. Write it down on a slip of paper and drop it into the jar.
Over time, you will find that you have a jar full of gratitude. Seeing your gratitude jar is a great visual reminder of all the wonderful things you have in your life.
By focusing on what we’re grateful for, we become more positive in our outlook. When we’re feeling low, a quick read through the contents of our gratitude jar can help us regain some perspective
Finally, how are you eating? The way you eat right now does matter a lot and now is a great time to begin a new mindful eating practice. This isn’t just about what you eat, it’s the manner in which you nourish yourself that makes the biggest difference. The more nourished your mind and body, the more awake you are to the simple pleasures of life. Your head will feel clearer and your energy will naturally rise.
Mindful eating is about slowing down, choosing foods that bring your body more energy and paying attention to how your body feels and stopping at the point of comfortable fullness. Mindful eating, put simply, is the opposite of mindless eating. Mindful eating is not a diet, it doesn’t have to be about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely. To truly eat mindfully, you will learn to trust your body and learn to hear what your body is telling you.
Most of all, give yourself and others lots of understanding and compassion right now. There will be ups and downs. Some days will feel easier than others. Everyone copes differently. We cannot say how long this will continue. We do know we have ourselves and how we choose to show up each moment. Sometimes it’s important to have faith and let yourself be in the flow of it all. The more you can drop into trust, the more you teach your body to relax even in uncertain and stressful times. That is a lifelong skill that will serve you even beyond this crisis.
Here’s what I want everyone to know: Your mental and physical health are never separate! One will always affect the other. 
The writer is founder and CEO at Nourishment Vitality Coaching. She is an internationally trained and certified mind-body nutrition & wellness practioner.