June 15, 2021

Caveman vs Covid-man

As we head towards the culmination of this challenging year, 2020, with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel due to the advent of the Covid-19 vaccine, I would like to reflect on the physical and emotional experience that has so consumed our lives. In my own country of Israel, we have just entered our third lockdown. In many countries across the world, the second, and in some cases, a third wave of this unseen virus is gaining momentum. Just yesterday, friends of mine left their long-awaited holiday destinations in South Africa as the president of the country announced the closure of many holiday-related activities. I heard frustrated and desperate cries of a people so utterly disappointed and angry at the impact that Corona has had and continues to have on our daily lives.

How is this invisible threat impacting us? Besides the financial, emotional, and social impact, how is the physical pressure taking its toll? I would like to compare two scenarios: that of the age-old "Caveman" and today's "Covid-man." In ancient times, when humans lived as hunter-gatherers and life was simple on many levels, the day-to-day experience was one of taking care of basic needs which were warmth, food, water, and shelter. When threats entered their space—such as a wild animal or another human who threatened to take away what was theirs—they experienced a "fight and flight" response, causing a surge of adrenaline in their bodies enabling them to receive blood flow to all their major muscles and organs which would assist them in running away from or fighting against their threat. Once they had succeeded, the effects of this rush of adrenaline subsided, and they continued as normal.

How is this different for "covid-man"? In our current world, we face an invisible enemy, and perhaps some of us face visible ones too. Our bodies, in this situation, continue to do what they were programmed to do: release surges of adrenaline to enable us to "run away from" that which threatens us. The difference from ancient times to today's world is that we very infrequently feel like we have succeeded and overcome the threat. We still have similar concerns that we need to obtain and protect on a daily basis: the need to earn a living, have food and water, shelter, warmth, and provide for all that our family needs. The world we live in is now less certain than it was a year ago, and the threat is never-ending. This causes our bodies to be constantly assailed by a rush of adrenaline to achieve the impossible, resulting in eventual fatigue or burnout with the consequent rise of cortisol in our bodies. When circulating cortisol is constantly elevated, it results in many diseases and one that I see daily in my work: weight gain and exhaustion that leads to an increase in appetite, particularly for foods that provide quick bursts of energy.

Is it possible to reverse this process? What can we do to live with this uncertainty and regain some small measures of control back in our daily lives?

Here are some tips for dealing with elevated cortisol and adrenal burnout/fatigue (as each person may differ, these guidelines are general, and if you are concerned you are experiencing this condition, please seek the guidance of a qualified medical practitioner and dietician):

  • Endeavor to get to sleep no later than 10-11 pm at night.
  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep.
  • Caffeine increases cortisol levels, so switch to decaf or avoid drinking caffeinated beverages between 7-9 am and after 2 pm. Limit the total number of cups of caffeinated beverages (tea/coffee/green tea/energy drinks).
  • Light aerobic exercise is very beneficial for lowering cortisol and for stress management; aim to perform 30 minutes daily, and if possible, do many of these sessions in the sunlight to increase exposure to the benefits of sunlight (increased vitamin D production, which is shown to increase immunity).
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of clean water daily.
  • Balance meals and snacks and eat 5-6 small meals frequently throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels stable.
  • Try to include 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Each of us has a unique set of circumstances and a way of experiencing and dealing with this strange new world. One thing we can be certain of is that we are living in interesting and challenging times and in a world where making decisions and controlling what we once were able to no longer exists. We are each responsible for our own immediate environment and despite the uncertainty; there are some things that we can implement. We have the power to choose our responses; we have the power to be kind; we have the power to help another, and we have the power to be socially responsible.

As we begin 2021, I wish you all health and the strength to face all that is in your path.