As we walk tentatively into the summer months, we are faced with the great desire to go back to normal as well as hesitation to trust that all is well. Cautious optimism seems to be the healthiest way to move forward, always with an eye and ear to new developments. Looking at our health habits, eating style, perhaps working on taking off weight gained while in quarantine, socializing, and exercising more, is all good for us both physically and psychologically.
Masks, hand sanitizers and antiseptic wipes
Continuing to wear masks is to everyone’s advantage. Masks prevent airborne particle transmission. Whether to prevent COVID-19, a common cold or any other respiratory illness, it is a sound practice for now and into the fall months as well. Using hand sanitizer or washing hands stands as an age-old practice that should now be ingrained in our habits. After coming out of a store or appointment, and sometimes during the outing as well, hand washing provides extra protection. Wiping down the grocery cart handle, your car door handle and steering wheel, and surfaces within your home and work with antiseptic are also good standard practices to keep up. It is easy to adopt these practices, and even if no virus is present, it can certainly do no harm and can only help.
Eating out, eating in, eating well
Many of us adopted different eating styles in the last few months. For some, it was take-out with the associated additional calories, salt and fat. For others, it meant a new interest in home cooking and baking. Now is the time to adopt healthy eating as a lifestyle. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in season, so utilize farm stands and your garden for the freshest produce around. While meat was in short supply, it is now, for the most part, fully stocked. Lean beef, pork and chicken are great on the grill. Healthy eating helps our immune system. Much of our eating was anxiety-induced. Now as we venture out into grocery stores and markets and shop in a more familiar way, not rushed to get out of the store or apprehensive that every surface is contaminated, we can also get back to eating healthier.
When eating out, we are still socially separated; know it is all to everyone’s best interest. Be kind to your wait staff who are working with masks and gloves. Most of all, think about healthy food choices. Also, think about the amount of alcohol consumed. Again, our anxiety may have caused an increase in drinking, medication, or tobacco use. Start walking back to pre-pandemic patterns, and if that difficult for you, seek help.
Social life, what’s that?
Start slowly. Have a distanced picnic with neighbors, a cookout or family celebration with everyone bringing their own utensils and plates, perhaps carefully sharing desserts or a dish. For those who are health compromised and still need to distance, include them with Facetime, Zoom, or a simple phone call. But keep in touch and talk to people. As churches and some athletic facilities begin to open, put your name on the list to attend. If not physically able to be there, watch remotely. Being isolated is emotionally draining, even when it seems like you are okay. We are social beings by nature, and sharing conversation and events give us a general sense of wellbeing so crucial to mental health and in turn strengthens our immune system.
According to a new study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, older adults were more likely to experience COVID-19-based loneliness and to experience psychiatric symptoms including anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms. Making sure the older individual is engaging in regular conversations with friends and family and even strangers can prevent loneliness and the sense that no one is willing to hear their pain. As for those suffering from boredom, reading, listening to music, solving puzzles, cooking and baking, physical exercise (even the most minimal) and other leisure activities can also be helpful. Don’t assume everyone is fine, be the one who checks in.
As we look ahead, think about what a second wave of the virus might mean. Don’t hoard toilet paper or other personal and cleaning products, but do keep spares on hand. Frozen and canned foods, canned meats, and other nonperishables are all good to have regardless of what occurs. Restock your medicine cabinet and refresh your first aid kit. Think about what you had to obtain in March, and make sure you have everything on hand now. Knowing you are prepared provides security.
Did you miss medical appointments over the past few months? Make them now. Dental work and cleanings, routine physicals and blood work, the trip to the dermatologist for that odd skin spot, and that colonoscopy—get them done. One fallout of the quarantine may be health issues that were ignored or missed. Get on schedule as soon as possible so you don’t have health issues that could be prevented. As we head into the fall flu vaccine time, schedule yours. Preventing typical seasonal flu is extremely important if there is a possibility COVID-19 returns and there may or may not be a vaccine to help us fight it. And if you haven’t yet, get that haircut, manicure or pedicure—looking good helps in feeling good.
By Nancy Scheetz, APRN, Executive Director, Farmington Valley Visiting Nurse Association