During this unique time of social distancing and sheltering-in-place, the question many are asking is, “How do I stay healthy?”
Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, co-directors of the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s prevention program at Loma Linda University Health, say it is not only possible to maintain your whole-person health but it is also is vital during pandemics such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
“These are stressful times,” Ayesha says, “but with the right management tools, there are boundless opportunities to be stress-free and rebuild your healthy habits.” Ayesha adds that while it may not feel within our control during crises, we do have the power to maintain our whole-person health during a crisis.
The Sherzais have developed NEURO, a lifestyle-focused approach to preventing Alzheimer’s and improving brain health. The comprehensive program empowers individuals to take control of their brain health by improving five areas of impact: nutrition, exercise, unwinding, rest, and optimizing.
While it may feel overwhelming, the Sherzais say the best place to begin their plan is with managing stress or unwinding. “When we talk about NEURO, we say everything starts at ‘u’ in the middle. It has to start with managing your emotions, stressors, and mindset, because if there is no management, nothing else will take place,” Dean says.
As we continue in this time of home isolation, the Sherzais offer these considerations.
Managing Stress Personally and as a Family Is Key
The Sherzais say management of stress begins by first defining your situation, defining what is affecting your situation, and then managing those systematically. For example, if you are immune-compromised, it is more than just that; you have to consider all the elements that affect it. Are you stressing over access to medications for your health? Are you stressing over having the right food to keep your immunity boosted? Are you thinking about your family possibly putting your immunity at risk? Once you have those stressors defined, you can focus on taking steps to destress.
First, you will prioritize and focus on the ones that impact you. With each priority stress, work on eliminating or redirecting it. In the example of the immune-compromised, the individual may prioritize access to medication and food and can eliminate that stressor by redirecting it and asking for help from family members to deliver these things. If they are worried about the outside impact on their immunity, they can have the family member practice social distancing upon delivery, thereby eliminating it.
So, when in doubt for stress management, the steps to remember are:
Dean adds that as a result of the absence of day-to-day activity during this pandemic, it is easy for the mind to exaggerate small problems, become upset, and misappropriate existing stressors.
“If you don’t have all the structures like these set in place, you will be overwhelmed emotionally during times like this of excess stress,” Dean says. “Most importantly for parents, it’s critical they have their stress under control and can demonstrate it to their children positively, because it’s stressful situations like this that will determine how they handle stress in the future.”
Creative Activities, Learning, and Socialization Are Necessary
While we may be practicing social distancing and isolation at home, Dean says the worst thing we can do to ourselves is to socially and intellectually isolate. When we do, the brain can instantly regress into its world of stress and anxiety. “With the access, we have the technology, now is the time to be both creative and connected for support,” Dean says. “Art and connectivity are vital to maintaining stress during difficult times.”
The Sherzais recommend some of the following activities:
Use This Time to Rebuild Lasting Health Habits
With the hustle that everyday life brings, we often lose out on time to exercise, cook fresh food, and get restorative sleep. The Sherzais say this is the time to build both immunity and routine for the whole. So, what does that look like?
The Sherzais urge families to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. You can also visit the LLUH coronavirus website to see facts and preventative tips to keep you and your family healthy.
The original version of this story was posted on the Loma Linda University Health news site.