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Headshots of Sharon Brangman, MD, and Kaushal Nanavati, MD

Upstate experts share advice on how to take precautions, stay healthy and manage stress during pandemic

With news of the COVID-19 pandemic changing rapidly, Upstate Medical University experts are sharing their advice with the community on how to stay safe and healthy.

Sharon Brangman, MD, chief of geriatrics at Upstate and Kaushal Nanavati, MD, a doctor of family medicine and director of integrative medicine at Upstate, were both recent guests on Upstate’s podcast and radio show, “HealthLink on Air.”

Both said the primary precaution all people should be taking is to limit contact with other people through social distancing. That includes not gathering in groups, not inviting people into your home and maintaining a six-foot distance from others at all times.  

“The assumption that we all have to make is that everyone has the virus even if they don’t have symptoms,” Brangman said. “And if you have that level of concern then that helps you keep away from people as much as possible.”

Brangman, who specializes in working with older people including those with dementia, said immune systems weaken with age. People over the age of 80 are especially vulnerable to infections because of their advanced age and common additional health problems, Brangman said. She offered these additional suggestions for older people:

  • Grandparents should not be caring for grandchildren who are currently home from school.
  • People should call their doctor’s office ahead of time to see if a regularly scheduled appointment is necessary or could be conducted a different way, perhaps by phone or teleconference. That includes dentist appointments.
  • Older adults should designate one, consistent person to check in on them or run errands.
  • Respect the boundaries set up by nursing homes to keep those patients safe and “double down” on efforts to keep in touch with patients there, either on the phone or through the facility’s staff.
  • Older people can boost their immune systems through exercise, good sleep and healthy eating.

As Upstate’s medical director of integrative therapy, Nanavati stressed the same guidelines for social distancing and said people should know proper hand-washing techniques. He also offered advice on how to manage stress and anxiety. He said 10 minutes of deep belly breathing can decrease stress hormones and increase feel good hormones such as dopamine.

“We have good science behind this. It breaks the pattern of anxiety from spiraling,” he said. “When we take a deep breath and we calm ourselves down, (the pre-frontal cortex) of the brain can get engaged again and that helps us to use reason, to use logic and then to be able to then think about OK, in this situation what is in my control.”

Nanavati offered these additional tips on how to control stress and stay healthy:

  • Use deep breath techniques by taking the longest inhale possible and then slowly exhaling. Ideally do this for 10 minutes at a time.
  • Don’t panic but be practical about what you can control, including your own social distancing.
  • Use other methods to communicate with loved ones including writing letters, making phone calls or volunteering when it is safe to do so.
  • Use this at-home time to spend time with the people you love and support your community.
  • Continue exercising at home with what’s available to you.
  • Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other substances to calm your anxiety.
  • Get good sleep as much as possible. Don’t watch the news just before bed. Use deep breathing or try journaling before bed to calm your mind.