April 9, 2020

Tips for Staying Healthy During a Pandemic

By Melissa Laitner, PhD, MPH, SWHR Director of Science Policy

The global spread of coronavirus has altered life as we know it. Almost three-quarters of women feel their lives have been disrupted significantly by the outbreak. Below, SWHR shares some important tips on maintaining good health in the midst of this crisis.

Practice Basic Hygiene

A significant concern in the current situation is how best to avoid catching and spreading illness. Following good hygiene practices and basic recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is important. Wash your hands often with soap and water, clean frequently touched surfaces daily, and cover coughs and sneezes. Local governments may have additional recommendations, such as stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. Search for local information online, or find contact information for community health departments here.

Call your primary care provider if you feel you may have symptoms of coronavirus. The CDC’s online symptom checker can help determine whether symptoms may be caused by COVID-19. Individuals who develop emergency warning signs, such as difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face, should seek emergency attention.

Maintain Healthy Habits

Maintaining healthy exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits may feel especially challenging during this time, but these habits are critical for managing health. Engaging in moderate physical activity is one of the best things for supporting a healthy immune system and managing stress. Try for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily, whether dancing, lifting weights, practicing yoga or aerobics at home, or taking a walk or run outside. If you exercise outdoors, ensure you adhere to local stay-at-home orders and maintain a 6 foot or greater distance from others.

Maintaining healthy nutrition habits should also be a priority. This includes consuming appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables, limiting processed food, and minimizing sweets and sugary drinks. It appears unlikely that coronavirus is transmitted via food, but precautions can be taken to minimize risk of foodborne illness spread. Watch a video on how to wipe down groceries or takeout items here.

Finally, good sleep can boost the immune system and lower stress levels. Anxiety and disruption to daily routines can make falling asleep more difficult. If so, read some tips on sleep hygiene here. In addition, SWHR’s “Women & Sleep: A Guide for Better Health” provides an evidence-based overview of key sleep challenges women face.

Manage Your Health Care Visits and Medications

Most of people are stuck indoors for the foreseeable future, but that does not mean plans for long-term health should fall to the wayside. People with health care appointments scheduled should consider their options carefully. Primary care providers may be overwhelmed with possible coronavirus cases, so rescheduling appointments for several months into the future may be the best option. If a health care visit cannot be postponed, ask if a telehealth appointment is available.

It is also important to take inventory of medications to ensure adequate supplies are on hand. Allow time to refill prescriptions early if possible. Many doctors are providing 60- or 90-day prescriptions in order for patients to avoid monthly trips to the pharmacy. If medication is needed quickly, some pharmacies may offer delivery services.

Don’t Neglect Pre-Existing Conditions

People with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, should make sure to stay on top of their disease management. Adhering to medical recommendations is crucial at all times for those who are chronically ill, but especially now. Some pre-existing conditions can put patients at greater risk for coronavirus. People who are immunocompromised or at greater risk from the virus should review the CDC’s recommendations here.

Women are more likely to experience certain conditions, such as migraine, chronic pain, and autoimmune disease, among others. Below are coronavirus-specific resources for individuals with these chronic conditions:

Engage in Stress Management

Even if physical health is first and foremost on everyone’s mind right now, it is important not to neglect mental health. Keep a close eye on signs of stress and practice healthy coping (see the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ coronavirus toolkit here).

It is important to pay attention to the news, but regular media breaks may be advisable for those who discover it is causing them undue distress. Also, although physical distancing should be maintained during the pandemic, this does not have to lead to total isolation. Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts are just a few of the video tools available to help people stay connected with loved ones from a safe distance.

For those individuals receiving mental health treatment, continuing with regular appointments is important, but requesting to switch to telehealth appointments may be advisable. With the federal government lifting telehealth restrictions, most providers should be able to switch in-person sessions to a virtual appointment. For those without a mental health provider but who feel like therapy would be useful, try a virtual provider or online service.

Finally, see resources for helping children cope with stress related to coronavirus on the CDC website.

Caregiving Considerations

Women are more likely than men to be primary caregivers for sick or disabled loved ones. They also often take on a large portion of the child care at home. While children do not appear to be at higher risk of the virus than adults, older adults and those with pre-existing conditions are at much higher risk for coronavirus complications.

Those with caregiving responsibilities should make an effort to limit coronavirus spread and help to avoid complications. Find resources for caregivers here, and see CDC information on children and coronavirus here.

What to Do If You’re Pregnant

Pregnancy may be a particularly challenging time for women currently, as it is still unclear whether they have a greater risk of getting sick or having serious complications from coronavirus. We also do not currently have good information on whether and how COVID-19 may cause pregnancy complications, nor do we know if it can be passed from a pregnant woman to a fetus or newborn.

Pregnant women should talk to their OB-GYN about best practices for staying healthy during the pandemic. The CDC has an overview on coronavirus and pregnancy here. The Harvard Health Blog also has a helpful Q&A on pregnancy.

As we learn more about coronavirus, it is likely more information will come to light on how coronavirus affects pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as very young babies. For now, the best thing pregnant women can do is to engage in good general health practices and stay in close communication with their doctor.

Ask for Help

It is important to remember that sometimes we all need help to handle stressful situations. Right now, even though reaching out needs to be virtual in many cases, there are still many resources available.

For immediate support, text the Crisis Line at 741741. The Domestic Violence Hotline has posted a resource guide here, and you can access trained counselors 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE or via online chat. And the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK.

For more options, see CNN’s guide to helping and getting help during the coronavirus crisis here.