A 10-Point Survival Guide

Because the immune system weakens with age, the coronavirus is more dangerous to older adults. So anything we can do to boost our immune response belongs on our daily to-do lists.

We know that being relentless about handwashing and physical distancing is the top priority during this public health emergency. Number two is taking steps to control what we can without stressing over the rest.

1. Get as much quality sleep as you need. Some experts say this is the single most important step you can take to keep your immune system functioning well. Trade the late show for an extra hour of rest, and don’t set your alarm clock if you don’t need to. Stay away from bright lights, computer screens, and upsetting thoughts in the hour or two before bed. It’s also wise to skip that nightcap. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but disrupts sleeping patterns so it’s harder to get deep, restorative sleep.

2. Keep a lid on anxiety. With stress levels rising, the news can be hazardous to your health, too. Resist the impulse to sit at home and get hour-by-hour updates on the COVID-19 crisis. That will only add to your stress and undercut your immune response. An update once or twice a day is enough to keep you informed.

3. Take time to calm your mind. Get outside and go for a walk, even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes. Being out in nature is soothing and you’ll burn off some of that nervous energy. You could also lose yourself in a good book, or devote a few minutes to deep breathing and relaxing each part of your body in turn. Plenty of free mindfulness apps are available to help guide you through relaxation exercises.

4. Keep moving. Don’t use shelter-in-place edicts as an excuse to sit in front of the TV for hours a day. If you normally work out in a gym, do some simple exercises at home. If you don’t already have the exercise habit, this would be a great time to start a walking program.

5. Be thoughtful about what you eat and drink. It’s tempting to overdo calorie-laden comfort foods, sweet treats, alcoholic drinks and salty snacks when we’re stressed—doubly so when we’re spending extra time at home. You will feel and function better if you eat light, healthy meals.

6. Be smart about supplements. Make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamins known to boost the immune system, including vitamins C, D, E and B6.

7. Stay engaged. Rather than feeling lost and idle at home, use that time for a hobby or project—the kinds of things we’re usually “too busy” to do. Mix up the mundane, like cleaning out a closet, with something more inspirational, like learning a new skill or writing a letter of appreciation to someone you love. You’ll sleep better knowing you’ve accomplished something.

8. Reinvent your routine. Many people are missing the outside activities that usually give structure to their days. If you find yourself at loose ends, create a schedule that builds in things you want to do—cooking meals, reading, an exercise session, a walk outdoors. While you don’t have to adhere to it rigidly, having a Plan A will give you a sense of normalcy and purpose.

9. Practice positivity. Science tells us that a positive mindset and strong relationships are powerful medicine. People who stay optimistic and engaged with the world tend to be healthier, live longer, and be more resilient in the face of challenges. Gratitude for the blessings you have is a pillar of positive thinking. Make a ritual of giving thanks every morning or whenever you feel your spirits flagging.

10. Reach out. Even though we must be temporarily isolated, we can still be part of a community. Take the initiative to connect with friends and family by phone, text, or email. Think, too, of people who are in nursing homes or assisted living and depend on visitors as their lifeline. A phone call or greeting card will help them feel less alone. Being together in spirit will help us all get through this difficult time.