How to Keep Yourself Safe, Healthy, and Sane During this Pandemic
By Sandra Jee, MD, MPH
Practical advice from Finger Lakes Children's Environmental Health Center.
Winter can feel difficult in the best of times, and this is a year like no other. The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused additional stress on everyone. It is important to attend to your own needs and make sure that you are keeping you and your family safe and healthy, and somewhat sane, during this pandemic. Life's stresses can feel more challenging than ever right now.
You may lose touch with people and places
Physical distancing (at least 6 feet) is essential for communities to stop the transmission of coronavirus. This means gathering with people in everyday settings is not possible, and leads to more time spent at home.
More time at home can increase stress for children and caregivers
Feelings of stress and uneasiness are normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Time at home can be isolating, confining, and can make other problems and worries worse. You may be worried about money, food, childcare, school, or getting sick. There is uncertainty about when life will return to normal.
It’s important to take care of both your physical and mental well-being during this difficult time. It is like when you are on an airplane that is crashing. You need to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help the ones around you! Our team of environmental pediatricians has put together some information to help keep your home and family safe and healthy. Here are some general suggestions to get you started. For more information, you can safely access resources from home via our website as well as from Mt. Sinai Medical Center, our coordinating Children’s Environmental Health Center for more suggestions on managing stress and keeping your home safe and clean.
- Get help now if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or in danger:
- In New York State: check your County Health Department for specific resources in your area.
- Get Domestic Violence help in New York State.
- Nationally: text “HELLO” to 741741 or go to the Crisis Text Line website to connect with a counselor 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Remove some of the stress.
There are resources available to you for taking care of your needs (below). Get help in New York State:
- Maintain connections with the people that matter.
Physical distancing doesn’t need to be social distancing. Time spent talking on the phone or by video is important for children and adults (and it’s not the same as “screen time”). Preserving these social connections with those who are important to you are critical.
Don’t forget to pay it forward with small acts of kindness to others. Research has shown that doing nice things to help others actually increases your own happiness! Doing things for other people will bring you more joy than you realize.
- Regular exercise improves physical and mental well-being.
With or without a pandemic, children should get an hour of physical activity each day; adults should aim for 75-150 minutes per week. Short periods of indoor activity like a workout, yoga, or dancing, or even active household chores, count. You can get the kids to help out by making a contest or a chore chart with prizes. Cleaning is exercise too!
- Go outside.
Especially as the weather brightens, being outdoors is enjoyable as well as healthy. Physical distancing and wearing a mask are ways to prevent transmission of coronavirus while you’re out. Anything from a walk around the block to a trip to the park is valuable. (Entry to all New York State parks as well as county and municipal parks is currently free.
Try to get natural daylight every day.
- Disconnect from the news.
The news can be overwhelming. Instead of following news commentary or social media feeds, it can be helpful to check objective, up-to-date summaries instead. For up-to-date information about local COVID-19 related news, visit the New York State's website.
- Stick to a routine if possible.
Regular times for eating, learning, playing, going outdoors, and sleeping can help you feel better and help childrens’ behavior during stressful times.
It is easy to do mindless binge-eating or eat too many holiday cookies. Enjoy your treats mindfully, but try not to over-indulge.
Keeping Your Home Clean:
You are all spending a lot more time indoors, so how do you keep the indoor air clean and safe to breathe?
We do not recommend air purifiers to reduce COVID-19 exposure at home.
Although some air filters or purifiers may be able to remove very small virus particles from the air, there is little evidence that live COVID-19 virus is present in the air at levels that can cause infection.
The best ways to reduce transmission of the virus are to remain physically distant from those not in your household, wear a mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, and safely disinfect high-touch surfaces (door knobs, light switches, etc).
Air purifiers can effectively remove indoor air pollutants like dust, pollen, and some gases. If you do choose to use an air purifier, choose one with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter with a MERV or CADR rating. We do not recommend PECO or PCO filters as these have been shown to be less effective than HEPA filters. In addition, make sure the air purifier does not generate ozone (because ozone can irritate the lungs).
The Finger Lakes Children’s Environmental Health Center is based at the University of Rochester Medical Center and is supported by New York State Department of Health. We are part of a network of seven children’s environmental health centers across New York State.
We are available to answer any questions and to do free consultations regarding environmental health concerns that you or your family may have. We are also a resource for health care providers.
Environmental health hazards include physical hazards and toxic substances that can enter our bodies through the air or through food or water. They can have many negative effects on physical, mental, and emotional health.
We can answer questions about specific environmental or toxic exposures, including, but not limited to:
- asthma triggers
- chemicals and poisons
- indoor air quality issues
- heavy metal exposure
- mold and pesticides
- climate change impacts on health
- and questions about COVID-19, including for pregnant moms and moms who are breastfeeding.
We offer free phone consultations to health care providers and families to answer their questions about environmental health concerns (such as those noted above). We also have free resources on COVID-19 and on maintaining a healthy home.
To reach us, call our phone line at (585) 275-3638 or toll-free (844) 352-3420 or (844) FLCEHC-0.
Sandra Jee, MD, MPH, is Co-Director of the Finger Lakes Children’s Environmental Health Center and a board certified pediatrician who sees patients at the Golisano Children’s Hospital Pediatric Practice of University of Rochester. Resources adapted from NYSCHECK.org.