Recently, I gave a short talk to fellow social entrepreneurs and colleagues here at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge. The talk was in collaboration with Allia, who run the building (and other centres for social entrepreneurs). The aim of the talk was to help people understand why we are acting the way we are in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as provide some practical and easy to implement advice on how to better cope given the current circumstances.
The Helpful Clinic is NOT a medical clinic.
This is NOT medical advice.
Thor A Rain is NOT a medical doctor.
Now without wanting or intending to downplay the seriousness of the current COVID-19 outbreak (it is serious), data suggests that the majority of people who are not in vulnerable categories will not experience unmanageable symptoms and are able to process the virus successfully.
However, there are a number of things we can all do to stand ourselves in better stead for dealing with the potential consequences of COVID-19.
Here at The Helpful Clinic, we take a 3D approach to health which encompasses biological, psychological and social factors (biopsychosocial). It means we look at all the contributing factors of illness, which allows us to then build the foundations of sustainable and solid improved health and wellbeing.
Is your response to the current COVID-19 situation proportional and appropriate?
Everyone deals with threatening situations differently. Take the current COVID-19 threat. Some people are acting as though they are totally unfazed, while others have gone into full panic mode and started hoarding toilet paper.
Well, much of it stems from the fact that it is our brain that drives our behaviour. When faced with a threatening situation, most of us have an acute stress response. Often referred to as the fight-or-flight response, this behaviour basically sees us wanting to fight or flee in response to danger.
Our brains require a lot of energy to function correctly and when we encounter a situation that we perceive as threatening, the top scoop (the rational part) of our brain tends to shut down. This leaves us with just our most primal survival responses, hence our tendency to fight, flee or freeze.
Humans would not have survived and evolved without this fundamental survival mechanism. By recognising that we are hardwired to respond to risk in this way, we can begin to understand why we (and other people) are acting the way we are right now.
You can find out more about the 3-scoop ice cream brain model in this blog post here.
Practice your ABC
Our first port of call here at The Helpful Clinic is our First Aid kit for Feelings. It’s adapted from the traditional first aid ABC (airway, breathing and circulation) and our model focuses on:
- Awareness – Awareness enables action. Whether it’s anxiety or mood swings, you need to be able to spot what’s going on before you can do anything about it. What are you thinking, feeling and doing?
- Breath & body – Once aware, focusing on your breath is the quickest way to shift your biochemistry. The more intense your experience the more your body is prioritising stress chemicals. Shifting your breath means that you are tilting the balance towards more calming chemicals. Breathing in to the count of 5 and out to the count of 7 a few times, is a good start. Then shuffle your shoulders, wriggle your toes, anything that involves moving your body.
- Choice – With everything you are thinking, feeling and doing, consider if it is:
- And what would be more helpful?
In relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, pay attention to how you are responding. Are you pretending it’s not happening? Maybe you are stunned and don’t know what to do? Perhaps you’re triggered to start panic buying toilet roll?
Practice your ABC regularly and it will become second nature. Like I always say: you don’t learn to swim by watching a documentary. You have to do the work. It’ll be a bit clunky in the beginning but pretty soon you’ll find that you’re able to refocus your thoughts, feelings and action more constructively.
Practical ways you can boost your immune system COVID-19
Let’s focus in on the key area that really counts now, your immune system. Whether it’ll reduce the risk of you becoming ill or help you process the virus more quickly, boosting your immune system is something you can do. And the good news is there are practical ways you can boost your immune system. Our advice is to:
1. Reduce stress
Assess any stressful experiences, tasks & activities and introduce stress-reducing measures. When we are in a prolonged, heightened state, it can detrimentally impact our immune system. So bring in stress-reducing measures wherever possible in your life – at work, at home, wherever.
Take advantage of meditation apps, like Insight Timer, to slow your brain down for set periods each day and give it some idling time. This helps it replenish itself a little, allowing you to call on it when you need to.
Another top tip is to use a journaling app (we like Penzu) to download your thoughts from your brain and write them down. It helps let off steam and relieves some of the pressure your brain is under.
Finally, stay mobile and active. Whether that’s through practicing tai chi, yoga or something less formal like climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Such activities help keep you fit, strong and supple.
2. Focus on food and water
Prioritise eating a varied, colourful and healthy diet. Opt for vitamin C-rich foods and try to have at least three different colours on your plate. Reduce your reliance on takeaway food for a few weeks and drink plenty of water. NHS guidelines recommend drinking 6-8 glasses of water every day – are you drinking enough?
3. Safeguard your sleep
When you’re asleep is when your body performs its key maintenance activities which help boost your immunity. That’s why a lack of sleep often leaves us feeling depleted and certainly not refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
Consider switching engagements so you are in bed at a reasonable time and focus on things that will support your sleeping experience, such as clean, fresh bedding, having a dark room conducive to dozing off quicker and refraining from using mobile devices right before bedtime. Also consider the air quality and temperature in your bedroom. It’s all about what’s comfortable for you.
Look out for each other
Right now is when your friends, family, colleagues and loved ones need you most. As we’ve already mentioned, some people will be taking disproportionate responses to the current COVID-19 situation.
Look out for people:
- Showing disproportionate, out of character anxiety
- Withdrawing from social contact and being less communicative. This could be a sign that they are struggling with low mood or anxiety
- Taking safety behaviours to excess. This could be becoming obsessed with washing their hands – especially if the individual has OCD tendencies already
- Retreating to a state of isolation and becoming less mobile
Remember, two-thirds of our brains are wired like my dog Denny’s. If someone runs, she’s going to run too. Be aware of that in yourself and the people around you and remember your ABC for feelings.
Where there is uncertainty, there is also potential
There’s no doubt we are experiencing uncertain times right now. But where there’s uncertainty, there is also potential.
Consider these potential benefits that could come out of the current situation:
- Your inner critic will (hopefully) be more proportionate – helping you gain a better sense of perspective going forward
- Any proactive immune system-boosting steps will also help you fare better against other health threats and illnesses, not just COVID-19
- New collaborations that have come as a result of this outbreak could lead to exciting new opportunities in the future
- Likewise, health innovations will take a leap and we will all be better prepared going forward
- There’s an opportunity to streamline what you do – having to prioritise your time helps identify tasks perhaps aren’t that critical, important or even relevant.
Remember, you can only control things that are in your sphere of influence and not everything is. That is okay. Channel your focus on what you can control, where you can take action and away from the rest.
In a nutshell…
- Check in with what you are thinking, feeling and doing
- Use the ABC of Feelings First Aid to check if what you’re doing is helpful, proportionate and appropriate
- Reduce stress
- Focus on food and water
- Safeguard your sleep
- Look out for risks and potential and risks – without uncertainty there is no potential
- Focus on what’s within your sphere of influence
Till next time, go gently with yourself.
All the best, Thor