As the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Massachusetts General Hospital leaders are discussing the transition to strategies for recovery and wellness. In a COVID-19 Virtual Seminar Series, a panel of experts—including Ann L. Prestipino, MPH, senior vice president of strategy and clinical operations, Maurizio Fava, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief at the Department of Psychiatry, Pradeep Natarajan, MD, MMSc, director of preventive cardiology, and Jonathan Rosand, MD, co-founder of the Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health—discuss steps to ensure wellness in the next stage of the pandemic.

Q: What should the return to work look like?

A: Medical experts are still unsure if there will be a second wave of the pandemic, and what that might look like. It is best to reduce that risk by continuing physical distancing as much as possible, despite announcements of reopening. Dr. Natarajan says that those who can continue to work from home should do so.

Many, however, don’t have the luxury of working from home. In those cases, it’s important to work with your employer to ensure some degree of physical distancing, proper protections and decontamination has been in place. Reconsider how often is necessary to interface with other people, and what that exchange should look like.

Q: How can families navigate reopening with a family member who is at-risk?

A: While some aspects of society begin to reopen, there are still people at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 within many families. Balancing the fears and concerns of family members with the wants of children and teens can be challenging. Kids may ask for playdates in the summertime or to go to parks and socialize. Prestipino suggests providing “as much education as you can at the right level for the particular family member you’re trying to deal with.” But she also adds, “I don’t think there’s any one magic bullet here.” Dr. Fava adds that “it’s important to keep in mind that anxiety is contagious.” Parents can ease some of their kids’ anxiety by remaining calm, providing reassurance and validating their children’s fears and concerns.

While it may be easy to focus on these more complicated decisions within a family, Dr. Rosand reminds parents to remember the simple things that can go a long way—like continuing to follow the Centers for Disease Control's recommendations of frequent handwashing at home, physical distancing and wearing masks in public. Even frequently cleaning doorknobs and light switches in the home can reduce risk of viral spread.

Q: How can I maintain personal health and wellness?

A: These uncertain times have had a continuous impact on the mental health of many individuals. It is important to remember that it is okay to not be okay. 

“Allowing yourselves to not always be at your best and allowing yourself the time to reflect on the stress you’re experiencing is really vital to brain and mental health,” says Dr. Rosand. 

Additionally, it is well understood that constant, high levels of stress can increase the risk of developing a broad range of disease, and particularly long-term conditions of the brain. The key to dealing with stress is to build a resiliency to it. Dr. Rosand provides a few elements that support your health and resiliency:

  • A healthy diet: Focus your diet on things that reduce inflammation—high in fruits and vegetables, protein, fiber, and low in sodium, saturated fat and sugar
  • Regular physical activity: While it can be hard to maintain during quarantine, you can find small ways to keep a healthy routine, like walking, static exercises indoors like jumping jacks, etc. Keeping a healthy routine now will make you more likely to keep up with it afterwards
  • Unwinding: Stretching, doing yoga, meditation and getting enough sleep are widely recommended to reduce levels of stress and anxiety
  • Maintaining social relationships: This is crucial during times of physical distancing and has been known to reduce the risk of developing certain brain diseases later in life

Watch this video to hear the entire COVID-19 Virtual Seminar Series panel discussion on recovery and wellness.