Self-care is the most important thing you can do during a pandemic. All over the news, we hear about healthcare workers running out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There is a shortage of masks, gloves, gowns, eyewear, etc, and in the richest country in the world, this is a tragedy. This materials shortage is a metaphor for Americans’ lack of self-care. As individuals, when we follow an excellent plan for self-care, that is our greatest personal protection equipment (PPE). You never want to run out of your PPE (self-care). Only one person is in control of that supply chain: You.

Americans have been negligent in self-care for over a century, leading to pandemic rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression and cancer. My concern is that with weeks and months of stay at home orders (which are necessary so Stay The Fuck At Home) will cause individuals to use unhealthy methods to cope with stress. People medicate themselves with food. We overeat. We sedate ourselves with drugs and alcohol. We become more sedentary, more depressed from social isolation, and gain more weight in fat (not muscle mass). This does not have to be the case.

This blog will give you a daily plan for self-care to promote excellent health! It will keep you sAne during the quarantAne

If you follow this daily plan, you will be a master of your day and become an architect for your health destiny! I recommend you follow this plan for 21 days to boost your immunity during this critical time. It will become a habit. Continue it as your daily self-care plan as your personal protection from chronic preventable diseases. 

Read further for the daily plan and the scientific basis for why this works. 

Daily 24 hour schedule for 21 days To Stay Sane During QuarintAne

8 hours of deep restorative sleep (monitored with sleep tracker)

30 min gratitude, prayer, meditation, reading uplifting literature

30 min breakfast that is whole food plant based

1 hour of vigorous aerobic exercise or resistance training

8 hours of remote work from home or in office with standing desk

30 min lunch that is whole food plant based

30 min of dinner with checking in with friends and family (Virtual)

5 hours of discretionary free time that you do what is fun and makes your heart sing with joy

In a 24 hour day you will have 5 hours of “free” time to do things that are fun and enrich your life. These activities in the discretionary time should make your heart sing. This is a general framework. One day you may have a one hour family dinner and exercise for only 30 minutes, and have to remote work for 10 hours but if we follow this outline we will be happier, healthier and more fulfilled during our lock down at home.

First thing upon waking, grab your gratitude journal and write three new things you are grateful for to start the day. This should take less than two minutes. Reflect on the previous 24 hours and think of three new things that you are grateful for. Harvard research has shown that the key is three NEW things every day. If you repeat the same three things, you get no benefits. For example, this morning in my journal, I was thankful to connect with my Toastmasters community via zoom meeting, thankful that my kids cooked dinner last night, and thankful for a busy week video conferencing with my patients.  This practice helps train your brain to enjoy the mundane, and in Eugene even the rain! If you make the gratitude practice a habit it will dramatically increase happiness. A gratitude practice helps shut off the negativity bias and allows you to experience joy daily. Do you want to have tea or coffee with someone who is always grumpy, cynical, negative, and hypercritical? I don't think so. Think of the happiness and joy expressed by a small child over the simple things in life, like playing with a toy or companion animal. On this morning's run, I was thankful for the mundane, the Stellar’s jay, the beauty and fragrance of cherry tree blossoms and even the gentle rain!

After spending a few minutes with your gratitude journal upon waking up, then perform a 5-15 minutes meditation practice. It is okay to wash your face and have a cup of tea or coffee prior to sitting down on your meditation cushion. Some meditation practices can cause serious side effects. Individuals who are suffering or at risk for anxiety, depression or psychosis can worsen their condition by some forms of meditation during these stressful times of the COVID 19 Pandemic. For example, meditating in a dark room with eyes closed is not recommended when an individual has emotional turbulence or during these stressful times. There are three broad types of meditation practices: Focused attention/concentration, Mindfulness, and Loving-Kindness practice. All three types of practices have many health benefits and promote neurogenesis. Only the loving-kindness practice is safe and nurturing, even when an individual is experiencing emotional turbulence. There are many variations to the loving-kindness practice, but I will share with you my favorite:

Find a comfortable place where you will not be disturbed. You may sit, lie or walk and you may have your eyes open. Place both hands over your heart. Think of an individual that brings about loving feelings in your heart and makes you feel happy. This can be a parent, grandparent, spiritual teacher, or a companion animal. Hold this individual in your mind's eye and silently or out loud affirm three times:

May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.

Now this should have produced warm loving feelings in your heart when you wished a loved one well. Next, hold yourself in your mind’s eye and affirm three times:

May I be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May I be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May I be happy, healthy and free from suffering.

Now this should have produced more warm, loving feelings in your heart. Next, hold all living beings in your mind’s eye and  affirm three times:

May all beings be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May all beings be happy, healthy and free from suffering. May all beings be happy, healthy and free from suffering.

That can be the end of the practice. However, if you want to go deeper, there is one final evolution that can be very liberating. Please note, this last step may be too difficult to practice for some, and only proceed when you feel ready. Remember the quote by Lewis Smedes, “When you forgive you set the prisoner free, then you realize the prisoner was you.”

Now think of a difficult person you are on bad terms with. This could be a friend, relative, coworker, a politician, etc. Next, hold this person in your mind’s eye and  affirm three times:

May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.  May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.

If you prefer to do a 1 minute guided loving kindness meditation click here for my YouTube video. Studies show that subjective mental stress increases inflammation and cytokines in your immune system such as TNF, IL-1, and IL-6. That is why it is critical to practice a mindfulness meditation daily to enhance your immune system and lower inflammation. Those individuals who have uncontrolled stress and underlying inflammation are at high risk because the immune system unleashes a cytokine storm and causes death with COVID-19 infection.

It is critical to do the gratitude practice and meditation practice before getting distracted with the news on the smartphone, emails, TV, etc.  We want to set the intention for the day and tap into the relaxation response and heal our minds and bodies first.

After setting a powerful intention with gratitude and meditation practice we can eat a light breakfast or skip breakfast. Then, I recommend a 30-60 minutes aerobic exercise for maintaining cardiopulmonary fitness. Ideally exercise should be done in the morning to promote restful sleep. This could include a vigorous walk, yoga, or home exercise routine streamed from your phone or computer. I personally go for a jog almost every day and lift weights two to three times per week. Vigorous aerobic exercise keeps your heart and lungs healthy and reverses your biological age and protects you against COVID-19. For example if your chronological age is 57 but your biological age is 21 years old based on your calculated VO2 max then in my opinion you are much lower risk. The vast majority of individuals who have healthy lifestyle habits, are of normal weight, with no underlying medical issues, will make a full recovery after COVID 19 infection.

Plan your three meals per day so you do not make poor and impulsive choices because of stress. Every evening before going to bed set the intention and plan your three meals that you will have the next day. It could be as simple as tomorrow I will have oatmeal and fruits for breakfast, PBJ and an apple for lunch, and a veggie stir fry with tofu for dinner. Eating a whole food plant based diet high in antioxidants will boost your immune system and helps maintain a healthy weight. I recommend a daily plan of eating about one pound of mixed leafy greens, plenty of beans and cruciferous veggies, complex carbs such as sweet potatoes and high fiber whole grain bread, nuts, seeds, and low glycemic fruits such as blueberries and strawberries, and cooking with onion, garlic, and regular use of spices such as turmeric  that will help reduce inflammation. For those new to eating predominately whole food plant-based diet check out the Physicians Committee’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart for detailed meal plans, recipes, and video guidance from a free app on your phone. Now that we have discussed the foundational pillars of great health: diet, exercise and stress reduction, let us look at every hour in our day.

If we plan our days for 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of remote work from home, 1 hour exercise, 30 min for meals, and 30 min for stress reduction practices, then that leaves us 5 hours of discretionary free time.

During this 5 hours of free time in our day there are a plethora of things we can do to enrich our lives:

We can connect with friends and family, write a book, read a book, create artwork, play or learn an instrument, sing, play video games, Honey-Do-list, play chess, clean the garage, watch a virtual concert, learn a new language, garden, go for a hike, walk the dog, nap, call a friend, zoom chat with colleagues, and do anything that makes your heart sing. 

This plan is recommended to boost your health and immunity while you Stay The Fuck At Home. It will stop the spread of this gnarly bug. If you must go out for essential business, then remember this: Keep six feet of distance to preserve our existence.

During this lock down and stay at home order become a master of your destiny. Follow a daily plan that will enrich your life and promote health of mind and body. Avoid the drama and negativity of the panic pandemic that can ensare you into following bad habits. Avoid catastrophizing about the worst case scenarios that will lead to undue insomnia, anxiety and panic. Also, avoid ruminating about your lost liberties which will lead to depression. Focus on seizing the day and owning each moment. When the mind wanders, bring it back to the present moment. Stay focused on your day hour by hour. The most important thing you can do during this pandemic is self-care that is your greatest personal protection.