COVID-19: How to Bolster a Healing Life While Navigating a Storm.

We’re in the eye of the storm, aren’t we?

Never have we been called to navigate our safety and survival with so much uncertainty. We’re scared. Many of us are wondering what’s best to do to stay safe, to remain strong, and to thrive in the face of it all.

These are my top ten recommendations for navigating—and thriving—through the storm of a global pandemic.

One: Practice Safety

First and foremost, practice safe behavior. Take very seriously and follow strict measures for prevention of viral spread, including social distancing, staying home, hand washing, and disinfecting. If you or someone in your care have concerning symptoms, follow your community’s protocol for medical advice and testing. These measures protect you, the people living in your community, and the healthcare workers who serve you.

Two: Create a Zone of Protection for Yourself and Loved Ones

We must feel safe, well protected, and meet our basic needs for nourishment, shelter, and human connection before all else. This is the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Create that safe zone. Stock up on necessities and nourishing foods to get you through the next couple of weeks (no need for frenzied stockpiling and depleting of resources for others!). Create an environment where your family can hunker down to live, eat, sleep, rest, connect, and feel safe until the worst is over.

And we’re only as safe and secure as everyone in our tribe: think about how you can support others needing key aspects of safety, security, and essential health needs.

Three: Eat Well

Food is the foundation of a healthy immune system. Nutrient-poor diets are directly tied to the risk for the most severe manifestations of COVID-19 as well as other viruses that visit our communities. Now more than ever is the time to commit to a nourishing food plan.

If you already follow a health whole foods diet, carry on!

Key Aspects of an Immune-Supporting Food Plan:

  1. Whole, nutrient-rich food, mostly plants.
  2. Avoid all processed foods and sugar.
  3. Get plenty of protein from healthy sources (approximately 8 grams per pound body weight per day) including pasture-raised poultry, beef, and lamb; bison and wild game; wild-caught fish. Use organ meat for concentrated energy and immune nutrition.
  4. Eat healthy fat to support your immune system. Some have anti-viral components. Use unlimited amounts of coconut oil and coconut products, avocados and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, fatty wild-caught fish.
  5. Eat a wide variety of colored plants and include leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel’s sprouts, watercress), onions and garlic, mushrooms, and use plenty of spices (thyme, oregano, rosemary, turmeric, ginger, pepper, etc.).
  6. Include fermented food and drinks to support your gut microbiome—it plays an important role in immunity.
  7. Drink plenty of filtered water and use green tea, Kombucha, bone broth, and healthy veggie soups.

Immune-Boosting Supplements:

  1. High Potency Multivitamin/Mineral: covers the nutrients missing from our diets and food supply.
  2. Vitamin D: a powerful immune booster that we can only get from the sun in the summer months. Use blood levels to guide long-term use, but for the next couple of weeks, you can use 10,000 IU per day safely to get blood levels into a normal range.
  3. Vitamin C: Take 1-2 grams during viral season. A liposomal form will be better absorbed.
  4. Zinc Chelate: supports immunity. Use 30-50 mg per day.
  5. Mushroom Extracts or Powders: use a mixture of reishi, maitake, shiitake, chaga, and cordyceps to support immunity. I put a teaspoon in my green tea each day.
  6. Probiotic: to support a healthy gut and immune system. Use a multi-species product (lactobacilli, bifidobacterial, bacillus, and saccharomyces) with 5-20 billion organisms daily.
  7. Liposomal Glutathione: markedly increases natural killer cell function, important for killing viruses. Use 200-400 mg per day.
  8. Anti-Viral Herbs: astragalus, slippery elm, green tea extract, monolaurin (from coconut oil), androgrpahis, ashwaganda, rhodeola.

Four: Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is our total boss, now more than ever! Nothing else you do will energize, detox, des-tress, and refuel you like getting enough high-quality sleep. Sleep will kickstart your immunity and fill your tank of resilience.

Five: De-Stress through Conscious Relaxation and Meditation

Persistent stress depletes our reserve of energy and resources. Excess stress increases our susceptibility to infectious disease. Relaxation practices and meditation help us shift this key part of our physiology, making us stronger, more resilient, and more resistant to immune challenges.

Conscious relaxation and meditation help us mitigate fear. They shift our perspective to use fear constructively for positive action.

Six: Move

It has long been known that movement and exercise support immunity and create internal resilience we need during the challenges of our lives. To thrive through the challenge of this pandemic, stay active, especially in nature if that’s possible. Any amount of moderate exercise (avoid over exertion at this time) will support immunity, energy, mood, resilience, and help you maintain a positive outlook.

Seven: Support Your Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being

We need ways to soothe and support ourselves when the conditions around us favor fear. We’re wired for fear and worst-case-scenarios to keep us alive. But once we’ve taken steps for protection, we must have ways to turn down fear, transform fear into positive action, and turn on optimism. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. We talked about this above as a stress-reducer. It’s also a time to go within and tangibly remind ourselves of our steady, strong, certain cores/centers/hearts within. The core of us is ever-present. Our hearts are certain. We can count on them.
  2. Use Affirmations. I find myself chanting my favorite positive affirmations to neutralize fear and uncertainty. They shift my perspective in an instant. Pull out your favorites or borrow mine: I am Divinely guided and protected. This too shall pass.
  3. Express Gratitude. Expressing gratitude has been shown to bolster immunity and wellbeing. It’s a simple way to shift focus away from fear toward the blessing that we have.
  4. Turn Down Incoming Fear: place strict limits on news and social media consumption. Check in with reliable sources of information for updates and sharing. But consciously choose what you let in.
  5. Give Yourself Permission: I love a good permission slip! It’s not just okay, but imperative that we give ourselves permission to take time out from the hubbub of crisis-management to relax and re-engage optimistic and hopeful attitudes about our futures. Permission slips are powerful because we turn to ourselves rather than outside experts. We activate our inner wisdom and engage our own super-powers. Write these down and carry in your pocket. Here’s an example of mine this morning:

Dear Karyn,

I give you my wholehearted permission to be your whole true self, to release fear, and to be an agent of positive change for those around you. I give you permission to unplug and relax after the work is done, and to seek love, laughter, and the solace of family, friends, and dogs. I love you, Me.

Eight: Connect with Those You Love

There’s nothing more comforting than knowing the people you love are safe and well taken care of. I find myself needing to know my children are okay even though they’re grown men with lives of their own. It does my heart so much good to check in with them daily. They need it too.

So, reach out to those you love. Even small ways—a text or email—can be healing for all concerned.

Nine: Pay it Forward

This pandemic and the social shut-down it’s created is having a harsh economic impact on so many of us and will for a very long time. I am especially worried about those who live paycheck to paycheck and run small businesses that depend on a steady influx of customers paying for their services.

For those of us who can afford to do so, it would be great to support the folks who help take care of us on a regular basis and have had to halt business as usual: our housecleaners, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and personal trainers (to name just a few). Let’s pay it forward. I plan to continue to pay my service providers who’ve had to stop working. I feel very blessed to have them and to have a way to give back.

Ten: Laugh

“Laughter is carbonated holiness.”

—Anne Lammott

It may seem selfish and inappropriate to laugh when so many are suffering but, truthfully, it’s the opposite. The world needs levity right now. We need laughter to help us gain proper perspective. As bad as things are right now, the world is still a wonderous place. It has long been appreciated how laughter boosts immunity, helps us shake off anxiety and fear, and grounds us in the present moment.

Stay safe and well, my friends.

What else are you doing to thrive during the pandemic?


p.s. There’s no time like a crisis or shutdown of business as usual to recommit to our healing life!

Please accept the gift of my book, HEAL, to help you navigate your journey.

The kindle version of HEAL will be available for no charge through Amazon from 3/21 through 3/25/2020. Download your copy now! With much love and gratitude to you!

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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