Worried About Coronavirus? Here’s Exactly What to Eat to Ease Your Anxiety
Coronavirus is definitely coming our way. It's not a matter of if but when. Every day, more cases are discovered, more people are making quarantine plans and an hour doesn't go by without me getting an onslaught of texts with links to dire news articles and virus cases cropping up closer and closer to home.
How are you reacting? Business as usual or stockpiling dried and canned foods? How we process anxiety-inducing events can be a harbinger of our mental and physical health, and the way you're feeling now about coronavirus can actually impact your chances of weathering the storm or getting sick. As it turns out, stress is a signal, and how your brain reacts is up to you.
Scientists studying stress find that people who "stress about stress" are less healthy than those who take action. The only question is, what that action is: stockpiling or going about business as usual?
Stress as a reaction to a challenge or outside threat can be measured in terms of the spectrum that tells you: "I got this!" or "This is going to get me." You need to tell yourself "Stress is not anxiety, and there is a purpose to this stress signal, and I will react accordingly."
Do you want to fight the threat or retreat and hide? If you think a challenge is surmountable, your resources (immune systems included) will rise to the occasion -- in this case, getting sleep, eating healthy foods and taking care of your immune system -- and chances are good that even if you are unlucky enough to get Coronavirus or COVID-19, you will come out of it healthy in a matter of days.
How You React to the News Says More About You: Is it a Challenge or a Threat?
Do you see coronavirus as a challenge or a threat? And if it's a threat, how bad do you perceive it to be: I may get sick for a few days but get over it? Or this thing could kill me?
If you see the stress as "insurmountable" your body's response, including your immune system and overall health may be compromised, studies tell us, by the surge of stress hormones that wash through your brain and organs, and if that stress lasts for more than a few days, your body is stuck in the "on" position, meaning it burns through its reserves, leaving you depleted and worn out, just the kind of weakened position that allows bugs or viruses to take hold and wreak havoc with your health.
If you're anxious to the point of overwhelmed by the virus, plus worried about work, plus upset about the political scene, plus freaking about the markets, plus feeling relationship conflict, your body may not have the defenses it needs to fight off all these so-called threats and still be able to battle the virus if you do get it, leaving you sicker than you would have been if you had kept calm and carried on.
I Hate Germs, But Cornoavirus Does Not Have Me in the Usual Dread Zone
I am not one to be casual about germs. When someone sneezes within earshot of where I'm standing or walking, I hold my breath. For several minutes! When I get off the subway and get to work or back home, I scrub down like a surgeon. I try to breathe through my nose in my am spin class (so that any floating germs don't get past my nasal passages) and I wash my hair and shower when I get off a flight before I get to bed, lest I bring any "hitchhikers" (bugs) to bed with me.
Right now, I am handling the news the way I do most stressors. It's coming at me and I need a strategy to cope. When this kind of thing happens (deadline pressure or bad news of any kind) I think of it as kind of like watching a big wave, rolling toward me, shimmering in the distance, and I think: Duck, go down deep and hold onto the sandy bottom, let the tumultuous waters churning overhead go past, and try not to let it roll me in its strength. That's my coping mechanism. I envision getting "through it" safely by taking action one way or another -- go over the wave or under it. Struggle through the foamy surface or dive deep.
As I write this I want to be clear: My heart goes out to anyone who gets this new and scary virus and feels sick, or worse yet, succumbs. This is awful and my sympathies are with the families who have lost a loved one. Those are the tragic cases on the news.
But as someone who has not yet contracted COVID-19, all I can do is focus on being my healthiest, not on the possibility of catching the virus. But weirdly the coronavirus is making me healthier. How? I have been eating healthier, more whole foods, such as vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables and getting to sleep earlier. And -- a big one for me -- I haven't been touching my face, so my pimples have basically cleared up (My worst habit is picking touching any little thing my fingers can feel on my face).
I have been staying in and eating healthier plant-based dinners, ordering Sweetgreen salads for lunch, getting to bed earlier and making sure I exercise every morning to alleviate stress and stay strong physically. I am also eating the 13 plant-based immune-boosting foods that The Beet featured last week and I suggest you do as well: Papayas and red peppers, deep leafy greens full of folate and fiber.
Foods to Boost Your Mood, And Keep Anxiety at Bay
To enhance your mood and banish anxiety, whether over the coronavirus, the stock market, the upcoming election or even your dog's health -- whatever is bugging you is both legitimate, and bringing you down, healthwise, on a cellular level. You can bolster your mood with your food. Here's what to eat to be your healthiest, mentally, emotionally and physically, now and in the future:
1. Nuts and Seeds for Tryptophan
All nuts and seeds contain tryptophan that the body converts into serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that washes through your system and allows you to stay calm and carry on. Sprinkle chia seeds on your smoothies, eat nuts by the handful throughout the day.
A new study shows that after eating nuts, people had elevated levels of serotonin, so if you're feeling particularly anxious, grab some walnuts, almonds or cashews and feel better.
2. Selenium, from Brazil Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Oatmeal and More
This is so specific, but if you're feeling anxious, you may need a boost in selenium, since people who have deficiencies of selenium are often depressed or anxious. You may not even realize that your low levels of selenium, not coronavirus, is the cause of your anxiety! How to get it? Selenium is in brazil nuts and a host of other healthy foods. Just two brazil nuts will supply what you need to feel better. Other foods high in selenium:
3. Eat Probiotics for a Healthier Gut, to Stay Calm and Boost Immunity
The one thing scientists are more certain of than ever is the connection between your gut and your mental health. Once upon a time, they thought that if you were anxious, your gut would tie itself in knots. Now, they realize the signals travel on a two-way axis: New studies show that if your gut is unhealthy (full of so-called "bad" bacteria) your mental health suffers, which leads to doctors recommending eating probiotics for mental health.
In a review published in Annals of General Psychiatry in 2017, researchers reviewed previous studies and found that they showed the positive effects of probiotics on depression symptoms. Taking probiotics improved both gut symptoms and depression.
After six weeks, 64 percent of those taking the probiotic supplement had less depression symptoms, which was twice the number compared to those taking placebo. What's more, the improvement in depression symptoms was associated with changes in the activity in brain areas involved in mood. So how do you get probiotics?
- Korean kimchi
- Pickled vegetables
- Natto, a Japanese dish of fermented soybeans
4. Get Your Fiber for Healthy Gut and Mental Health.
For more good gut health and to boost "good" bacteria to boost your mood, fill your gut with wholesome fiber-filled fruits and vegetables. Remember fiber is only in plant products. When your gut is happier and healthier, your brain thanks you by being healthier, calmer, less anxious and more upbeat in general.
So how do you get the magical fiber foods? The 20 Best Sources of Fiber by The Beet include lentils, black beans, chickpeas, artichokes, and more. So, how you feeling now? Hopefully like the coronavirus is a challenge, like a wave you have to dive under. This too shall pass.