By Ellie Kempton of Simply Nourished
Quarantine. It’s a 12 letter word that’s all too familiar now.
The intended outcome of a quarantine is of course to protect and prevent the spread of illness but when under quarantine for long periods of time it’s all too easy to fall prey to stressors that actually infringe on the resilience of the immune system.
Listed below are the top 6 stressors that long term quarantine can easily impart. But instead of leaving you hanging, feeling like there are no good answers for how to deal with these stressors you’ll walk away with a very realistic roadmap to follow to ensure the quarantine measures we’ve taken thus far have the most positive [intended] outcome for you and those around you.
- Social isolation: besides the obvious joy that comes from spending time with loved ones in person, research is finding that perception of social connectedness and support bolsters our defense against inflammation and disease. Humans have an instinctive need to belong. But under the helm of quarantine it takes concerted effort to maintain that deep meaningful social connectedness without letting the slippery slope of social media scrolling pass as a false replacement.
- More screen time: speaking of social media... time under quarantine threatens our capacity to self- regulate our screen time. With more restriction on what is plausible to do outside the home, it’s all too easy to get into the habit of making a morning, midday and evening “scroll” your new pastime. Studies are finding time and time again that prolonged exposure to screens decreases levels of the hormone melatonin hormone, which regulates sleep and plays an important role in strengthening the immune system [particularly the respiratory system]. Those highest at risk of screen time associated melatonin deficiencies are of course children.
Decrease in vitamin D: one of the less commonly recognized [but stealthily disastrous] side effects of staying indoors to prevent viral spread is that many people are spending less time outdoors.
Fresh air paired with sunshine is important for both mental and physical health because your body uses sun exposure to make vitamin D. Without it, you might be more susceptible to infection and a D deficiency may also leave you feeling fatigued, and possibly contribute to feelings of anxiety + depression. Robust studies around the world tout vitamin D as one of the best sources of defense against respiratory tract infections making the increased time inside another potential threat to our immunity.
- Less exercise: with less time outdoors it’s easy to extrapolate this as one of the predictors of less exercise. It was easy to exercise when there were group runs and outdoor sports at our fingertips but now it’s up to us to self-enforce an exercise regimen. Easier said than done. Online exercise platforms are making it easier than ever to tune in at any time of day. And if research has anything to say about it, exercise [even in isolation] might just be one of our best defenses against infection, strengthening the respiratory system and keeping our cardiovascular system in a position to thrive amidst this viral storm.
- Too many zoom happy hours: while an evening cocktail might make that zoom or Skype date a bit more playful and easy, the normalization that more alcohol leads to can easily dampen the immune system. Not only does alcohol harm your gut microbiome, it also inhibits your ability to fight off infection. And, while a nightcap might be a tempting way to fall asleep more quickly and reducing the stress of the day, research shows alcohol actually disrupts your sleep, which is crucial for wellbeing at any time but especially now.
- Sneaky snacks + sugar: I don’t know about you but my social feed is swimming with sourdough bread soirees. It appears everyone has become a baker during quarantine and while I love the Hygge-like implications of making food from scratch, coming together as a family and savoring a traditional food, it’s but a microcosm of what happens all too easily when cooped up in the home: more snacking. It turns out snacks and more food consumption throughout the day all too easily lends itself to more sugar. The quarantine 15 is a thing and stress induced snacking might be one of the biggest culprits. Vanity aside, sugar also has negative impacts on our gut microbiome leading to inflammation and a weakened immune system.
Pause. Take a deep breath. And remember you are not destined to experience all 6 of these negative impacts. Instead, you have the opportunity to rise above and make times of quarantine a time of heightened reflection, awareness and action. Here’s how:
Start by taking inventory of what changes have occurred in your life personally since quarantine started. Now categorize them. Which changes have served you and which ones have snuck in unannounced and no longer serve you?
As you take stock of your own personal quarantine pitfalls, consider weaving in a few of these simple suggestions to live more intentionally:
- Make it a point to spend time with a friend or two per week via video platform or socially distanced outdoor setting. Choose those friends in your life that call you to be a better person and inspire you to live your best life. Engaging in meaningful conversations fill you up on a deep level much faster than those hours online scrolling feeds. We trick ourselves into thinking it is social engagement but we know all too well that feeling of depletion even after hours of social media “engagement."
- On that note, become a strict taskmaster about your social boundaries. Set them and stick to them. This might entail bringing in someone you love and trust to hold you accountable. Screen time is a drug. Just watch a child drawn in with a gaze of utter addiction. But with good boundaries, this can certainly be circumnavigated saving you time to pursue your passion and purpose.
- Consider getting your levels of vitamin D checked and / or supplementing with vitamin D if your quarantine routine includes less time outside. With more and more research validating its tremendous impact on immune resilience, it’s worth your time to defend with some D.
- Embrace the mocktail! With less to do in the evenings, those zoom happy hours and of course playful evenings with your quarantine mates call for a drink but they don’t always have to be boozy. Consider using one of these gems to get your creative wheels turning without falling prey to poor sleep and the normalization of excess.
- Lastly, do a food audit. Write down what you eat for 5 days straight. There's nothing more telling than that! Then, take stock of where sugar comes in and use simple upgrades to eliminate it. Potato chips? Swap those for some roasted potatoes. Pink gummy bears? Go for some bright pink strawberries. Any chance you take a carb out of a package is a chance to decrease the sugar and increase the quality. Also try to eat meals not snacks. Hungry? Increase the fresh vegetable component and the protein punch of your meals. If a meal is satisfactory it should tide you over for at least 4 hours.
Whether we’re in a time of quarantine or not, consistent reflection, refinement and reorientation of our daily patterns is worthy of your time.
Quarantine simply invites us to tune in instead of tune out. Your immunity depends on it!