Love in the Time of COVID-19: Why a Healthy Lifestyle Matters During a Pandemic

In Summer 2020, COVID-19 struck our family. My husband became incapacitated first, and I followed shortly after. His illness included a weeklong stay in the ICU, which was terrifying.

Thankfully, due to a combination of factors, including exceptional care, good fortune, and our healthy lifestyle, we have both fully recovered, with no lingering effects.

In an effort to share a completely objective, fact-based, firsthand experience of how COVID takes hold of a healthy person, I’m sharing our pre-COVID to post-COVID journey.

Early in the pandemic, I wasn’t too worried about getting sick. I’m a risk-taker, a seasoned entrepreneur, and a world traveler who is tenaciously committed to a healthy lifestyle. I eat well, I am very physically active, and I practice mindfulness and gratitude daily.

I assumed my healthy lifestyle and strong mental attitude would protect me from contracting the virus. I also believed that my strong immune system would minimize any symptoms and conditions if I did contract it.

I was mindful that COVID-19 affected each person differently and closely followed any health updates. My husband and I made the most of our quarantine time together by:

  • taking long, daily walks together,
  • cooking nourishing meals,
  • swimming and playing pool volleyball,
  • reliving happy memories and storytelling, and
  • finding new ways to reconnect.

When quarantine fatigue began to set in, we paid extra attention to the power of prayer, clarity of intentions, and sent positive affirmations out to the universe. Sound a little Woo Woo? This mental approach has served me well through many significant life challenges, and I have influenced my pragmatic husband to adopt some of my mindfulness practices.

In June, my husband came down with a cold, headache, and stomach issues. Within days, we knew that something was seriously wrong. He was so fatigued that he could barely leave our bed, he stopped eating, his fever reached 103°F, and his oxygen level was close to 90. We decided to get tested.

I was asymptomatic until after I got tested, and then I started feeling severely fatigued. I felt worse each day, and soon I could barely get out of bed.

It took two days for the test results to come back. I kept feeling worse each day.

They were positive. My husband and I both had COVID-19.

Today, it’s behind us. What didn’t kill us made us stronger, and we are more in love than ever. Although, I’m convinced that we had a hand in our own healing. If it wasn’t for our wellness-focused lifestyle and emotional connection to each other, the damage could have been much worse.

This was my COVID-19 experience

The day Michael was told to come to the hospital was the day I felt my worst. We sat in our home office together, discussing the possibility that he may not return home. With teary eyes, I did not want to consider this option and pleaded with him to fight and return home. The thought of being a widow before our first wedding anniversary was horrible and overwhelming. I drove him to the emergency room. I laid in the car, barely able to move, awaiting word if they were going to admit him.

He was admitted to the ICU with pneumonia, and I went home without him. From a distance, we tried to be strong for each other. I could tell on the phone that he was dehydrated and needed supplemental oxygen. All I wanted was to be there for him in a way that the nurses and doctors couldn’t. We know our loved ones the best, after all.

I talked him through breathing exercises because I desperately wanted him to stay off ventilation, knowing that it helps so many, but it’s the beginning of the end for many others.

We had several emotional phone calls. Halfway through his third day in ICU, he started to turn the corner, but we didn’t relax yet. He was home a week after being admitted, having lost 20 pounds in the hospital.

We wondered: Would he have come home in a week, or at all if we didn’t live the lifestyle that we lived pre-COVID-19?

My experiences throughout this journey have taught me that we play an active role in our own healing energy. Being physically and mentally healthy gives you a fighting chance, and knowing you have that control is powerful.

You can control your COVID-19 fears by taking charge of your body and mind. This is what worked for me:

#1: Feel gratitude

I’ve had a morning gratitude ritual for years, and it helps turn my mindset toward the positive in times of stress. My gratitude has carried me through countless challenges, and it carried me through our illness.

My particular ritual is journaling, but you can also get your gratitude fix by writing thank-you notes or keeping a gratitude jar.

Positive psychology says that feeling gratitude can protect your physical and mental health. The idea of gratitude as something that improves your well-being dates back thousands of years to ancient practices. It’s more relevant than ever today.

According to research: 

#2: Move your body

I’ve always been committed to wellness and a believer in the benefits of exercise. In fact, my husband and I didn’t stop moving through quarantine until we fell sick! We were swimming and walking daily, and my husband engaged in strength training as well.

Staying active helped us have strong enough bodies to fight off the virus when we did fall sick. The health benefits of exercise are well-documented, including:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Better blood sugar and insulin control
  • Weight control

Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are all risk factors that contribute to worse COVID-19 outcomes, so a daily exercise routine is important. I understand healthy people with no underlying health issues have fallen ill, and some have even died. There is still so much to learn about this disease.

#3: Change your relationship with food

We tend to turn to comfort food in stressful situations, and what’s more stressful than a global pandemic? Now’s the time to reshape your idea of comfort food. Processed food loaded with sugar won’t help your immune system function to its fullest.

Researchers were discussing the role of nutrition in mitigating COVID-19-related inflammation as far back as May of this year.

Instead, turn to a clean, farm-to-table, plant-based diet. Choose foods that are organic and produced close to home. If you eat meat, choose chicken or fish (red meat promotes inflammation) and avoid dairy since it promotes inflammation, too.

#4: Share memories

Before we got sick, my husband and I spent a significant part of quarantine recounting happy-tearful memories from our childhoods. Some of those moments took place at my husband’s parents’ gravesites, which he hadn’t visited in a decade.

It’s critical to slow down and appreciate the joyful moments in life, both in the past and present. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the present moment. Choose instead to share memories with your loved ones and remember what brought us light and love before the pandemic.

#5: Take cleansing breaths

When my husband was in the hospital, I called him every day, and we practiced breathing together. He has asthma, and I was so worried that complications would lead him to need a ventilator. So, we worked together to keep his lungs strong. We stayed on the phone, counting and inhaling and exhaling together until we both felt calm and clarity from the breath.

It’s more than simply breathing. We breathed deep and long while focusing on prayer and healing. You typically inhale for a specified period, hold it for a period, and exhale for a period before the cycle begins again. In a few repetitions, the breath is sweeping you away like a comforting wave. 

There are techniques and rhythms for different purposes, but an effective type of yogic breathing is sama vritti pranayama. This method uses deep breathing with a four-second inhale and exhale, and it has a proven effect on calming the autonomic nervous system, reducing stress in your body.

The healing power of love and community

I had a hard time focusing on myself when I was sick. I like being a pillar of strength for the people who depend on me.

It’s been a big part of my identity for my entire life, from being a single mom to caring for my parents in late life to my current role founding Phoenix Wellness Retreat. I’m in the business of getting people up in the morning without an alarm clock, nourishing their bodies and minds, and lifting the weight of the world off their shoulders!

I struggled to ask for help because it’s in my nature to be nurturing, but the best choice I made for myself during our COVID-19 experience was to reach out and allow myself to receive spiritual and emotional support.

Once people in the community knew what was going on, we were overwhelmed with phone calls from friends, clients, and colleagues. I reached out and asked prayer groups to pray for us. The power of love and community is especially healing in isolation when we need it the most.

When we come together (even from a distance), we’re stronger than when we’re apart. It can be scary to turn on the news these days, but there’s always an uplifting story about a community coming together to remind me that the turmoil won’t last forever.

No one wants to get COVID-19, but I can say definitively that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Our COVID-19 experience will not define us, but it has changed us. Going through this level of physical and emotional challenge forces growth as individuals, and my husband and I can say that we grew within our marriage too.

COVID-19 has affected millions of Americans, and it’s likely to affect hundreds of thousands more. You may be worried about how you’ll react if or when someone you know gets sick, or if you get sick yourself.

It’s normal to feel some fear amid a global pandemic, but you can’t let go of what drives you. When you hold on to what’s important, like self-care, relationships, and positivity, you’re dropping an anchor that will keep the fear of the pandemic from sweeping you away.