There is an ongoing conversation about the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus and how to be prepared; according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, anyone can get infected by this virus, but older adults — ages 60 and up — are at higher risk for serious illness from it.
As of Tuesday, there have been 2,575 confirmed cases and 73 deaths, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
According to the CDC, fear and anxiety about this disease can be overwhelming especially for those who are at higher risk for COVID-19, such as older people, individuals with chronic diseases, and health care workers and first responders who are likely to come in contact with people infected with COVID-19.
While stress is a common physical and emotional reaction that people experience while confronting life’s everyday challenges, long-term stress may contribute to negative health outcomes, such as digestive and sleep disorders, headaches and other symptoms and conditions. Stress may worsen asthma and has been linked to anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
Now, more than ever, it is important to focus on your physical and mental health, so you can stay positive during this difficult time.
One key recommendation is to increase physical activity.
While recreation centers and gyms are closing, it is still important to stay as active as possible during this time. However, check with your doctor if you plan on significantly increasing your physical activity.
Some options you may want to consider include:
• Engaging in at-home workouts in order to avoid physical contact with others
• Take a walk around your neighborhood (ensure proper social distancing from others on the sidewalks).
• Dancing to uplifting music
How to manage depression and anxiety:
• Meditation is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety according to the CDC. Find a quiet place in your home and set a timer for a specified period. If you’ve never meditated, start off with just three minutes, and focus on your breathing.
• You may also want to consider taking breaks from watching, reading and listening to news related to the outbreak to help reduce anxiety and stress. Use activities such as puzzles, crosswords, coloring books, painting, reading, and games to keep you engaged.
• It’s also important to stay in contact with close friends and family during stressful situations, so check-in with your loved ones by phone, Skype or Facetime.
It’s also important to eat right.
Older adults should continue to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. We encourage patients to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, and limit alcohol intake and foods and drinks high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.
It is extremely important that people at higher risk take the necessary precautions to reduce the risk of getting sick during this outbreak.
The CDC guidelines include:
• Stay home as much as possible and avoid having visitors in your home, even family members.
• Keep at least a 6-foot space between yourself and others. The risk of contracting an illness may increase in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces.
• Adhere to the mandates of local and state health departments.
• Make sure you have adequate supplies of food, water and other critical supplies you may need.
• Contact your health provider and ask if you should get extra doses of necessary medications that you can keep on hand.
• Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
• Be sure you have adequate amounts of over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies you may need.
If you are experiencing anxiety or stress related to COVID-19, you are not alone.
In response to the outbreak, Optum is opening its emotional support helpline providing access to specially trained mental health specialists.
This is a toll-free number and it will be open 24 hours a day seven days a week for as long as necessary. This is a free service.
Anyone in need of emotional support is welcome to call. The number is 866-342-6892.
For more information about COVID-19 and the precautions you can take, please visit OptumCare.com.
Dr. Cary Schnitzer is Chief Medical Officer with OptumCare Arizona.