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Guest opinion: Is it time to change the COVID game?

By Lynn Johnson - | Dec 3, 2020

There is an old saying, the baseball rule: “Never change a winning game, always change a losing one.”

COVID is a losing game. Some states, and some nations have done lockdowns and others have not. Some mandate mask wearing, others do not. The rate of infection is rising rapidly regardless of what we do. If our “game” is to lock down, socially isolate, and wear masks, and if that game is a losing one, what can we add? Personal immunity!

Immunity through vaccination does appear to be on the horizon. That will be a great way to finally achieve herd immunity. There is a minority view that vaccinations are dangerous. Some won’t comply. Even among those who do accept them, it will take time to administer the vaccine to millions, perhaps until June. What can you and I do to improve our chances in the meantime?

Since I am a psychologist, not an immunologist, I offer you evidence-based behaviors and attitudes that improve our immunity. Try these:

— We are happy creatures. Happiness makes our immune system function better. In children, joy is natural. For us older folks, an excellent way to recapture that joy is practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude diary. Write three to five things each day you are glad about. Describe how they helped. Write short thank-you notes. Be grateful.

— We are social creatures. We evolved to live in tribes, to have face-to-face contact with other people. We are biologically “wired” to keep track of around 150 people, plus or minus. We require face-to-face connection. Staying home and socially isolating actually hurts our immune system. We are healthier when we connect, we are more sickly when we are alone. Connect with the people you are safe around.

— We are spiritual creatures. People who have a religion and practice it are healthier, they are happier, and they live longer. People who have allegiance to a spiritual outlook, who adhere to high moral-ethical standards, and who attend services reap significant health benefits. Religious practice helps.

— We are contemplative creatures. People who meditate daily are healthier. Meditators benefit more from vaccination! People ask me what is the best meditation. It is the one you will do. Whether your practice is of one form or another is of very little importance. The value comes in practicing it daily.

— We are active creatures. Sitting is the new smoking. Get up and move. Run like a child, dash here and there in short bursts, “interval training.” Exercise hard for 30 seconds, then actively rest (keep moving!) and then dash again. Weight lifting is also great. Active people are healthier.

— We are generous creatures. When we give our time, money, and effort to people in need, we become happier and healthier. Relying on government to help the needy short-circuits the benefit we get from personally helping. When governments offer lots of benefits and entitlements, individuals stop volunteering. Don’t fall for that! Volunteer to help others.

An immunologist would likely say there are other things you can do, like take extra Vitamin D and zinc. I appreciate that advice. I am not opposed to masks, I wear them, but the actual research on masks is not that inspiring. I wear them to be polite, and have small faith they will do much. Frequent hand washing is of value. Distance may help. But what if it turns out that all the government tells us to do doesn’t work all that well? Then boosting your own immunity is a great addition. You might be able to stay healthy until the vaccinations arrive and we get herd immunity that way.

May I challenge you to try these immunity-supporting attitudes and actions? Even if you get sick, you will recover faster. And if you do die, I give you permission to come back and haunt me.

I am generous. I love to help. Go to my website, drlynnjohnson.com/immunity and you will receive a free newsletter series about behavioral immunity.

–Lynn Johnson, PhD, is a semi-retired psychologist from Salt Lake City who has not gotten COVID despite being around his beloved grandchildren regularly.

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