COVID-19, Celiac Disease and Mental Health

April 23, 2020

Hi Beyond Celiac Followers!

My name is Alyssa Opdyke, and I am the Development and Administration Coordinator at Beyond Celiac. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a number of years now, and know that many of us are struggling with COVID-19 related anxiety and depression. 

Like me, you know the cliches:

  • Don’t pour from an empty cup. 
  • Put your oxygen mask on first.
  • Relax.

I and the rest of the team at Beyond Celiac know that these times can be challenging for our community. Since living with celiac disease already means managing a host of psychological impacts, it can be difficult to balance your physical and mental health during a public health crisis. 

Related to COVID-19 specifically, our community reports in a new survey on our Go Beyond Celiac database that we have some concerns specifically as it relates to celiac disease:

“I fear that there will be shortages of gluten-free food. I also fear that the virus could trigger another autoimmune disease.”

“I fear having to be hospitalized for COVID and in a situation where a hospital cannot accommodate my dietary restrictions and I will not be able to have outside food brought in for me.”

We’re here to support you with resources and encouragement to foster positive mental and physical health. Here are 8 things you can do to keep your physical and mental health well during #COVID-19:

  1. Continue your regular health visits via telehealth. Many doctors’ and therapists’ offices are now using telehealth to continue in-person appointments. Check with your insurance provider to see if these appointments are covered and find a provider near you.
  2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” The most accessible way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. With apps and programs like Headspace, 10% Happier, and Calm, or even readily available guided meditations on YouTube, it’s easier than ever to focus on the present.
  3. Keep a schedule. When many of us are finding our routines are upended by the rigors of social distancing, or for those essential workers still going into their jobs but doing things differently than usual, creating and sticking to a schedule can restore an area of control and calm to your life when things may feel out of control and uncalm. Set your alarm, make lists, plan your meals and activities — even mapping out when and what you’ll watch on Netflix! — can put you in the driver’s seat and ease your anxiety.
  4. Get active for at least 30 minutes a day. While gyms and fitness studios are currently closed, there are a number of free fitness classes available online, including yoga, pilates, and barre workouts. As long as you practice social distancing guidelines, you can also go for a run or walk around your neighborhood. Get creative!
  5. Eat a balanced and healthful gluten-free diet. Nutrition for mental health and emotional wellness is key to maintaining good health. That said, gluten-free foods are not all created the same! Avoiding refined carbs and sugars can help improve your mood.  A diet with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, beans and whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice may put more bounce in your step. Preparing new recipes and cooking and eating with your family, either in person or on video chat, can help you focus on a creative outlet and staying connected. 
  6. Keep a gratitude journal. During stressful or traumatic times, it can be helpful to combat distorted negative thinking with the little things you are grateful for each day. In the words of Arianna Huffington: “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.” Start by taking 5-15 minutes each day to write down 3-5 good things that happened or things that you were grateful for that day. You’ll be amazed by the results!
  7. Take the time to relax. Practicing relaxation techniques can have many health benefits, including reducing activity of stress hormones, reducing muscle tension and chronic pain, and improving digestion. If this is something you tend to forget or skip, it’s helpful to schedule it in your calendar in advance to make sure you do it! Blocking off time in your planner or digital calendar is essential. 
  8. Connect with others. Now more than ever, sharing and connecting within the celiac disease community is incredibly important. Join the conversation on Facebook, see what’s happening on Instagram, and join or take the new COVID-19 survey on Go Beyond Celiac.

What are healthy ways you’re living amidst #COVID19?



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